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Let's Face It: Medicine is Business

Category: Medical Education

Does it Pay to Pray?

By Yvonne Kao

A study1 on the effect of intercessory prayer on recovery was reported in the American Heart Journal. The study procedure, in short: Cardiac bypass patients all around the country were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups:

  1. Uncertain/No Prayer: Patients in this group were told they might or might not receive prayers; they did not receive prayers.
  2. Uncertain/Prayer: Patients in this group were told they might or might not receive prayers; they did receive prayers.
  3. Certain/Prayer: Patients in this group were told they would receive prayers; they did receive prayers.

This study was reported under headlines like, “Intercessory Prayer Has No Major Effect on Recovery (BeliefNet) 2, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer” (New York Times)3, “Study Fails to Show Healing Power of Prayer (Yahoo! News)4, and “Prayer Does Not Heal the Sick, Study Finds (Times Online)5. These headlines may be catchy, but they do extreme violence to the actual science. (more…)

Media Hyping and Premature Promises Do Not Help

Recently, journalists picked up on a poster session on the effect of ginger on ovarian cancer cells at the 97th American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting (AACR) in Washington, DC (April 1-5, 2006). Forbes called it, “Ginger an Ovarian Cancer Killer.” The poster authors’ school, University of Michigan also sent out a press release subtitled, “Cell studies show promise for ginger as potential ovarian cancer treatment.”

This illustrates my concern of how a piece of scientific “evidence” is so preliminary, yet generates a level of sensation that is far from warranted.

I also object to U. of Michigan’s use of the word “promise” in the press release. I’d have preferred the entire subtitle replaced with the disclaimer, “Study done in petri dish – not even animals or human – please do not gorge on ginger.”

A definition of “promise” speaks to expectation of something that is likely to happen. This study is too early to speak of any promises. (more…)

Here To Fight or Here To Die?

When I was a graduate student, a senior student teacher (scientist or professor in training?) got up to address the the group of college students and graduate student teachers. The senior student glossed over the usual orientation-related information. At the end, he became very solemn and said, “Please show some decorum around here. Remember that people come here to die. It’s necessary to show decorum.” It wasn’t until months later that I realized what bothered me about the comment. What disturbed me was that no one seemed to be offended at the senior student’s comment – for them it made sense.

Cancer patients do not come to die. They come to fight for their lives.

How many students did the teaching assistant influence with that perspective – those students who didn’t bother to question what he said, or didn’t see there was anything to question?

There is a widespread disconnect in perspectives of those who study cancer and those who live it. I had no clue what living with cancer is about even though I’ve scurried along the same hallways as emaciated, hairless patients who were wheeled around the hospital. I’ve seen children fighting cancer and felt as removed if I was watching a television. How many basic science (preclinical) students go through school wondering whether their project would make a difference at all?

Perspective on cancer matters not only to people living with cancer and to clinicians treating patients, but also to everyone else – graduate students researching on various aspects of cancer, individuals who influence social perspective (teachers, community leaders.) Perspective affects our decisions to to detach and become indifferent, or to increase awareness of and appreciation for individual courage in the fight against cancer.

From a breast cancer patient: “…having cancer has changed me for the better, I wish I could have changed a different way, but I’ll take this way if necessary. Cancer is a disease of LIFE, not just a disease of the body. And though others want you back to normal, normal is different now. It’s not about being strong; it’s about being grateful for every second.”

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