Weekly Round Up: Master Storytellers, The Art of Presence, and The App for Empathy

For the past few months, I have been doing a weekly email newsletter focused on the medical humanities, leadership, and personal development.

Here is this week’s email that went out. If this looks like something you’re interested in receiving, let me know (DM me your email or just comment and I’ll reach out) so we can add your name to the list.

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Good evening, Everyone!

I hope this email finds you enjoying the close of another great week.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to open another edition of the Weekly Round Up. I hope you enjoy this week’s reads and listens. Let’s get to it!

Lessons from 50,000 Interviews: Larry King and Cal Fussman

If there’s one craft Larry King has mastered, it’s communication. And if there’s one craft that medicine life relies on, it’s communication.

Listen in as King details his career’s trajectory and recounts the stories and interviews that changed the way he looks at the world.

From behind the scenes looks at Al Pacino’s character development in The Godfather to almost getting fired from his first job for sneaking off with a girl, Fussman brings out the Larry King we rarely see- the man behind the persona who has unwound authenticity from over 60,000 interviewees.

We can all learn something from the way Larry approaches his conversations, both on the air and off: “I never learned something when I was talking.”

Study: knowing more doesn’t change disbeliefs about science

Science, a field based on informed argument, has found itself trapped between binary viewpoints: you’re a believer, or you’re not.

From evolution, to climate change, to the causes of gun violence and social discrimination, scientific examination of our culture’s most pressing issues has devolved away from thoughtful discussion and into identity driven opinions.

Why do these two camps seem to drift further and further apart? This Axios article offers one compelling reason: the more you learn, the more you cling to your existing worldview, regardless of what the information presented reveals.

For all the Atul Gawande fans out there, he thoughtfully details this dilemma in his CalTech commencement speech from 2016, which you can read here: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-mistrust-of-science/amp

What’s the solution, then?

I won’t pretend to know the answer, but patience and compassion seem to help. For the alternatives, judgment and quick, cutting words, only exacerbate the gaps that are growing. The gaps that help us isolate ourselves from uncomfortable realities we don’t want to think about, let alone believe.

It’s a polarity, no? Standing up for what we believe and taking a knee for the sake of thoughtful discourse.

Vacation and the Art of Presence: Anaïs Nin on How to Truly Unplug and Reconnect with Your Senses by Maria Popova

“If leisure is the basis of culture, how can we harness its true rewards given our pathological addiction to productivity?” — Maria Popova

French-Cuban writer Anaïs Nin explores this very question in Volume 5 of her diary, summarized here by Maria Popova.

As societal pressures push towards more- more achievement, more possessions, more likes and followers and sense of impact- Nin finds that a return to simplicity helps her reconnect with the most fundamental aspect of the human experience: the present.

Not the electronically lit present of our digital worlds, but the nourishing, natural present that sits in front of us, waiting for us to look up and embrace it.

If you’re feeling caught up in the rat race like I am, take a few minutes to soak this one in.

Empathy Gadgets by Sandeep Jauhar

Is there an app for empathy? Can we train it in mediums outside the personal connections from which the emotion grows?

Juahar seems to think we can. In this op-ed piece, he argues that one secret to restoring and rebuilding empathy in healthcare lies in gadgets that let us step into patient’s worlds. For example, an armband that mimics a tremor.

I wonder, are these tools useful or are they a comfortable distraction from the draining, but ever important work of bearing witness to the intricate emotions of patients?

Just because we can easily get a taste of life with Parkinson’s from an arm band, is that better than getting a deep understanding of that life from the personal stories of a patient?

Perhaps those are the fundamental question with many of these technological advancements in medicine:

Just because we can, should we?

And if we choose to, are we doing so beacuse its easier or more effective?

What do you think?

Stories Doctors Tell by Tracy Moniz, Lorelei Lingard, and Chris Watling

What are the themes that emerge when you analyze over 150 narrative reflections from JAMA, NEJM, and the Annals of Internal Medicine? What can we learn from these themes to make medical education more humanistic?

Moniz, Lingard, and Watling answers these exact questions in their analysis of physician’s essays about the professional demands of a career in medicine.

Their final paragraph sums it up well:

“Professional development opportunities routinely focus on increasing knowledge and updating skills and do not typically foreground the existential struggles around humanity and professional identity associated with a career in medicine. These issues need greater attention across the medical education spectrum, and this gap may be one reason physicians write these reflective pieces and publish them in the narrative pages of scholarly journals, to be read by colleagues. These narrative spaces offer a venue for physicians to share the issues they grapple with and the lessons they learn. Physicians may find it challenging to have these conversations in-the-moment or in ways that maintain collegiality or respect hierarchy. The need for these conversations appears undeniable, and the profession may benefit from creating more spaces in which they can safely take place.”

What role do the humanities play for you, whether you are a physician, student, patient, or caregiver?

Quote of the Week:

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” — Viktor Frankl

That wraps it up for this week! Thank you again for reading and I’ll talk to you next Sunday

Jack Penner

P.S. Dear First Years has been read by over 500 people already!

Thank you for sharing it far and wide the way you have.

If you haven’t yet and think it’s worth spreading, please send it to a friend. Thank you so much. Your support means the world.

Here’s the link: Dear First Years

My name’s Jack. I’m 4th year medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine and like you, I’m trying to figure out how to become a Good Doctor.

I’ve been lucky enough to write for the Washington Post, Harvard Macy Institute, and more.

Join me in finding succcess, balance, and happiness at www.JackPenner.com