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Events, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Abraham Verghese urges Stanford grads to always remember the heritage and rituals of medicine

Abraham Verghese urges Stanford grads to always remember the heritage and rituals of medicine

Dr. Abraham Verghese, MD, MACP a speech at the Stanford University School of Medicine Convocation on Saturday, June 14, 2014. ( Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford School of Medicine )

More now from Saturday’s commencement ceremony, courtesy of my colleague Tracie White, who recounts the sentiments of the day in a medical school news story. During the event, White reports, graduates reflected on their years of hard work, thanked their loved ones and faculty members for their support, and took their first steps as doctors.

During his opening remarks, School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, told the new doctors, “Have the courage to follow unmarked paths… Listen to your patients. They are trying to tell you the diagnosis… Above all else, listen to your heart.” He was soon followed by Stanford physician and best-selling author Abraham Verghese, MD, who delivered the keynote speech and urged graduates to look to the time-honored role of the physician-patient connection and learn from this relationship. As White wrote:

[Verghese] began his remarks with words of warning, noting that soon-to-be-published research shows that medical students spend as much as five to six hours per day in front of the computer during their clerkships.

“That just astonishes me and worries me, and you are not doing it by choice, but because that has become the nature of our work,” he said. “You will need courage and determination to push back when things detrimental to your time and your care of the patient are being thrust at you. Electronic medical records don’t take care of patients: You and our amazing colleagues in nursing and the other health-care professions care for patients.

“People take care of other people,” he said to loud and long applause from the audience.

Both heritage and rituals, like the ritual of commencement, play an important role in the career of a physician, he said.

“You are also participating in a timeless ritual… when you get to examine a patient. You are in a ceremonial white gown. They are in a ceremonial paper gown. You stand there not as yourself, but as the doctor. As part of that ritual they will allow you the privilege of touching their body, something that in any other walk of life would be considered assault…

“The ritual properly performed earns you a bond with the patient… The ritual is timeless, and it matters.”

More photos from the day can be found in this gallery, published earlier on Scope, and on the medical school’s Flickr page.

Previously: Stanford Medicine honors its newest graduates, Congratulations to the Class of 2013!, Stanford medical school alum fulfills lifelong dream to participate in commencement ceremony and In commencement address and Atul Gawande calls for innovation around “entire packages of care”
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Events, Stanford News, Technology

Stanford Medicine partners with TEDMED on “first-ever gathering on the West Coast”

Stanford Medicine partners with TEDMED on "first-ever gathering on the West Coast"


Stanford Medicine has been named a medical research institution partner for TEDMED, an annual global event dedicated to exploring the promise of technology and potential of human achievement in health and medicine. Jay Walker, TEDMED curator and chairman, commented on the partnership in a release, saying, “Stanford and TEDMED share a passionate belief in the value of building multi-disciplinary communities as we strive for a better tomorrow in health and medicine.

School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, also shared his enthusiasm over joining forces with TEDMED on its “first-ever gathering on the West Coast.” He commented, “There could not be a more exciting time for Stanford Medicine and TEDMED as the world comes together to focus on the unprecedented opportunities in biomedicine today.

The three-day conference, which will be held Sept. 10-12, consists of a live, digitally-linked event held simultaneously in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The University of California, San Francisco will also serve as a medical research institution partner.

Previously: Exploring popular health myths and how they influence health-care decisions, Stanford geneticist discusses genomics and medicine in TEDMED talk, What if obesity has nothing to do with overeating? and Re-imagining first response with an all-volunteer rescue service
Photo by Jamais Cascio

Events, Stanford News

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield on practicing “sensitivity to now”

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield on practicing "sensitivity to now"

Jack Kornfield

A different energy filled the Cemex auditorium of the Stanford Graduate School of Business the evening in May that Jack Kornfield, PhD, spoke. Attendees showed up early, chatted calmly or sat quietly and were asked to turn off their phones. A petite woman with red-rimmed circular glasses seemed to be performing a walking meditation through the ailes and across the stage as she helped people get settled. Kornfield eased into an armchair flanked by plants and spoke softly into a microphone, explaining that he had been under the weather and we would just have to listen closely.

The Buddhist teacher, author, doctor of clinical psychology and founder of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, Calif., gave a talk called ”Mindfulness, Love and Graceful Living in Fast Times.” The event was part of the TT & WF Chao Distinguished Buddhist Practitioner Lectures at Stanford, co-sponsored by the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies and Stanford Continuing Studies.

“Buddhist teachings at their heart are a science of the mind,” Kornfield said, explaining that the original teachings of Buddhism are a description of human happiness and human suffering. While recent scientific studies have attempted to quantify health benefits of meditation and mindfulness, Kornfield spoke more to the heart of why the practices mattered. He also led the audience in a close-eyed guided meditation to move from talk to action, practicing “sensitivity to now.”

Kornfield explained that loving-kindness, a type of meditation, requires presence, which he described as possessing “clarity, graciousness and respect” allowing you “to see what’s so without reacting to it.” Rather than sit still in response to human suffering, however, a present mind chooses how to act. “Mindfulness teaches you to listen to your body and feelings,” he said, emphasizing that mindfulness must be paired with loving-kindness for good effect. “We live our life from feelings, but we’re not always aware of them.”

Addressing the fast pace of a technology-filled society, Kornfield reminded the audience, “You can take a break, a walk, a meditation” to step out of the rhythm of multi-tasking. Bringing the practice of presence beyond the forest or retreat center, he used email as an example of how to bring mindfulness and loving-kindness to your and others’ everyday experience. “Before you press send, ask, ‘What’s my best intention?’” Revise as necessary.

Previously: Research brings meditation’s health benefits into focus, The science of willpower and Stanford scientists examine meditation and compassion in the brain
Photo by Chris Wesselman Photography

Cancer, Dermatology, Events, Public Health, Stanford News

Free skin cancer screening being held Saturday

Free skin cancer screening being held Saturday

sunbatherScreening for skin cancer is advised for people with many moles or atypical moles, fair skin or a history of excessive sun exposure, a personal history of skin cancer or precancerous spots, or a parent or sibling who has had skin cancer. Each year, Stanford dermatologists offer a free screening for those in the local community, and this year’s event – being held tomorrow, May 31 – will offer more than the experienced eyes of skin clinicians.

Understanding that many people have concerns about one particular spot, the organizers are debuting a form of fast-track evaluation for just such concerns. During the Spot Check service, clinicians will use and study a new Stanford-developed smartphone-based device. As Justin Ko, MD, co-chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, explained to me, “The device allows a user to capture clinical images of a skin lesion with their smartphone previously possible only with specialized, expensive devices typically used by dermatologists. We’ll be doing some studies to validate what we believe may well ‘democratize’ ability to capture and send medical-quality images of skin lesions by making this technology accessible and easy to use.”

The screening event (.pdf) will also include information on SUNSPORT, a collaboration of the Stanford Cancer Institute, the medical school’s Department of Dermatology, Stanford Athletics, and Stanford Hospital & Clinics, which provides student-athletes with information about their heightened risks for sun-related skin damage and works with the teams’ coaches and athletic trainers to reinforce skin-protection practices on a daily basis.

For local readers: The event runs from 8-11 AM at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center in Redwood City. Call (650) 723-6316 for more information.

Previously: Skin cancer images help people check skin more often and effectively, Working to protect athletes from sun dangersStanford clinic addresses cancer-related skin issuesAs summer heats up take steps to protect your skin and Man’s story shows how cancer screenings saves lives
Photo by Tom Godber

Events, Mental Health, Public Health, Research, Stanford News, Women's Health

Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses

Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses

IMG_2764rtshEncouragement to focus on physical appearance in our culture often fuels negative body image and eating disorders. College students can be particularly susceptible to body image issues, and a past survey shows that eating disorders among college students have risen to affect 10 to 20 percent of women and four to 10 percent of men.

To create a social environment where healthy eating and a positive body image are the norm, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott established The Body Positive initiative in 1996. The program provides youth and adults with tools and strategies to overcome self-destructive eating and exercise behaviors. This past year, the women worked with a group of Stanford students and staff members to change cultural beliefs of beauty and health on campus.

In celebration of the student-led movement, The Body Positive is hosting an event at the Stanford Women’s Center this Sunday. During the event, attendees will be able to view students’ art, hear them sing and speak out in celebration of their authentic beauty and learn more about their projects to support positive body attitudes. Below Scott discusses The Body Positive model, research at Stanford to measure the effectiveness of the approach, and ways that parents, educators and others can support young adults in developing a healthy body image.

What is it about the college experience that leads students be so critical of their body image and to struggle with eating disorders?

Students report many messages in the college environment that promote a preoccupation with body image and dieting — two risk factors in the development of an eating disorder. In the student community at college, there are a plethora of messages questioning students’ ability to trust their own bodies and promoting the idea that everyone can, and should, transform the size and shape of their bodies to meet a very slender ideal. Both men and women are susceptible to these messages. Women, however, are also trained to be ashamed of their appetites and ambitions and to shrink themselves and their passions. These messages are strengthened by peers who are also afraid that they are not okay as they are, especially freshman who are separated from their family and out in the world alone for the first time feeling uncertain about how to take care of themselves.

What motivated you and Connie to launch The Body Positive?

We founded The Body Positive to prevent eating disorders by teaching youth and adults to experience self-love, inhabit their unique beauty, and listen to the voice of wisdom within to guide sustainable, joyful self-care. Ultimately, our work is about freeing all people to pursue their life purpose and passions. Connie survived an eating disorder and then lost a sister to body hatred. She was motivated to change the world so her daughter, and all children, could grow up loving themselves and seeing beauty in their unique bodies. I was overwhelmed by the suffering of the people I was seeing as a new therapist in my practice in Marin County. I was shocked (and still am) to see so many young people suffering with body hatred and eating disorders and losing years of their lives. Being a social worker and an activist, I was motivated to transform the culture so that people could let go of the fruitless pursuit of transforming their bodies.

What advice can you offer to help parents, educators or others in establishing a social climate where healthy eating, a positive body image and excellent self-care are the norm?

Learn the Body Positive competencies! Learn to cultivate mercy for your impermanent and ever-changing body. Be a role model of self-love, especially to your children. Learn to be generous with yourself and develop peaceful, sustainable self-care behaviors so that you can gently return to balance when you are out of balance. Explore the ways your ancestors are represented in the natural size and shape of your body and celebrate those amazing survivors instead of fighting them. Trust the authority of your own body and test everyone else’s ideas about how you should take care of it against your own experience, like a true scientist. If you do all this you will be a great role model for others and that is the best way to create body positive community.

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Big data, Events, FDA, Public Health, Stanford News, Technology

Rising to the challenge of harnessing big data to benefit patients

Rising to the challenge of harnessing big data to benefit patients

FDA guyMuch has been written on Scope about the annual Big Data in Biomedicine conference, held here last week. My colleague Bruce Goldman was on the scene all three days, and he offers more highlights from the event in an online story.

Noting how Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine,  encouraged the audience “to rise to the challenge of harnessing computer technology, biomedical informatics and social media – collectively known as big data  – to benefit clinical practice,” Goldman goes on to describe the FDA’s work in this area:

“If you eat a salad, you’re pretty much a global citizen,” said [Taha Kass-Hout, MD, chief health informatics officer at the Food and Drug Administration], noting that the ingredients of a typical salad may travel halfway around the world to get to our table. Unfortunately, the well-traveled salad can pick up a host of microbial free-riders en route. Over the last year the FDA has assembled a publicly accessible database holding the genomic sequences of more than 5,000 food-poisoning culprits such as Salmonella and listeria, he said.

In a new initiative, the FDA has been monitoring social media to enhance its surveillance capabilities. “Maybe we’ll find that we can detect outbreaks earlier that way,” he said. It may also be possible, using these methods, to draw inferences about beneficial or adverse effects of drugs prescribed for indications other than the ones for which they’ve been specifically approved. This could expedite new uses for existing drugs.

Previously: Discussing access and transparency of big data in government, U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in Biomedicine, Euan Ashley discusses harnessing big data to drive innovation for a healthier world and Big laughs at Stanford’s Big Data in Biomedicine Conference
Photo of Kass-Hout by Saul Bromberger

Big data, Events, Stanford News, Technology

Last day of Big Data in Biomedicine conference

Last day of Big Data in Biomedicine conference

Today marks the closing day of the Big Data in Biomedicine conference. With the goal of bringing together thought leaders from academia, information technology companies, venture capital firms and public health institutions, the conference has highlighted how large-scale data analysis can transform the way we diagnose, treat and prevent disease. Today’s topics of conversation include genomic medicine, and devices and technology, and the morning keynote will be given by Vinod Khosla, MBA, founder of Khosla Ventures and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

As a reminder, you can watch the conference via live webcast on the conference website or follow along on the @SUMedicine feed as we discuss the event. We’ll also have a wrap-up story here on Tuesday.

Previously: U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in Biomedicine, Big Data in Biomedicine conference kicks off tomorrow, Big Data in Biomedicine technical showcase to feature companies’ innovations related to big data and Euan Ashley discusses harnessing big data to drive innovation for a healthier world

Events, Mental Health, Stanford News

A campus-wide call to pause and reflect

A campus-wide call to pause and reflect

contemplation by designA friend once said to me in her warm Virginia drawl, “You know Jacqueline, there is a whole other world  on the other side of STOP.” I found out how correct she was when a severe back injury forced me to stop my hectic, stress-filled schedule. It was a tough way to learn a valuable lesson, but I wouldn’t change those pain-filled days given what they taught me about the importance of getting off the merry-go-round of activities that I thought I had to do.

On Friday, those in the Stanford community will be given a glimpse of that world on the other side of STOP without injury, by participating in the Carillon Concert and Quiet Contemplation. Everyone on campus is invited to gather at 11:30 AM for a Carillion Bell concert, a chance to relax, do some tai chai, win some raffle prizes, and most of all STOP and contemplate. Attendees are encouraged to bring a mat and a desire to “take a chill pill” as my children would say.

And for our far-away readers: You, too, are encouraged to, in the words of the event organizers, “pause, reflect and take time to unwind.”

Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of the Arts, Humanities, and Medicine Program within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Big data, Events, FDA, NIH, Stanford News, Technology

Discussing access and transparency of big data in government

Discussing access and transparency of big data in government


The Big Data in Biomedicine conference of 2014 continued today with discussion around how troves of information are being stored, organized, accessed and applied in a way that’s useful to stakeholders across health care.

Yesterday afternoon, Stanford bioengineer Russ Altman, PhD, introduced keynote speaker Philip Bourne, PhD, who earlier this year began his post as the first permanent associate director for data science at the National Institutes of Health. Altman was part of the search committee that selected Bourne as part of an initiative of NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, to make use of biomedical research datasets and lead the way in coordinating effective use of Big Data.

Bourne discussed some of the factors motivating thinking on big data at the NIH, including open access to information, which was also a focus of U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park‘s conference presentation. Bourne noted that currently 70 percent of research that’s funded cannot be reproduced – a statistic “of great concern to the NIH” that’s driving ongoing reproducibility studies there. But what worried him most, he said, is sustainability: How can growing databases be accommodated within the NIH’s flat budget? (“We can’t go on like this,” he said.) How can labs retain talent when competing with industry’s larger salaries offered to top scientists? (“It’s a loss to the field if you spend money making a biomedical scientist and they leave the field.”) Bourne also seeks to address “broken” areas of scholarship – a paper with “16,000 citations” that no one reads – and the reward system.

Among his solutions are applying business models to promote sustainability of research, introducing policies to ensure funding is allocated where it is most needed, sharing infrastructure where possible and treating biomedical scientists more like tenured academics. Bourne also described an NIH data commons to provide Dropbox-type storage and a collaborative compute environment for scientists.

Co-operating and data-sharing were key this morning as the conference audience heard from Taha Kass-Hout, MD, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s first chief health informatics officer. He described the importance of big data to the regulatory agency’s mission “to protect and promote the public health” and in promoting information-sharing with transparency and protection of privacy. The new, scalable search and big-data analytics platform openFDA comprises more than 100 public access data sets within the FDA and  allows users to access data and run queries through APIs. ”It’s not just about the data,” Kass-Hout told the audience. Ask rather, “How can you build a community around that data?

Previously: U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in BiomedicineBig Data in Biomedicine conference kicks off tomorrowBig Data in Biomedicine technical showcase to feature companies’ innovations related to big data and Euan Ashley discusses harnessing big data to drive innovation for a healthier world
Photo of Bourne by Saul Bromberger

Big data, Events, Stanford News, Technology

U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in Biomedicine

U.S. Chief Technology Officer kicks off Big Data in Biomedicine

Dean - smallThis morning, the 2014 Big Data in Biomedicine conference kicked off at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. The School of Medicine’s dean, Lloyd Minor, MD, welcomed the nearly 500 in-person attendees and many more joining via the free live stream of sessions over the course of three days. Minor emphasized collaboration – with conference sponsor Li Ka Shing and between co-hosts Stanford Medicine and the University of Oxford, and within the scientific community – to harness “the vast potential of technology, data and biomedicine to transform human health for the 21st century.”

Oxford’s Martin Landray, PhD, FCRP, and Stanford University President John Hennessy, PhD, spoke before yielding the floor to keynote speaker Todd Park, chief technology officer of the United States. An enthusiastic Park shared, “No topic excites me more than the incredible power data has to fuel innovation.” He referenced the 2010 paper “Where Are the Health Care Entrepreneurs? The Failure of Organizational Innovation in Health Care” to preface comments noting how, over the last few years and with the help of government programs, innovators have begun to increase efficiency, lower costs and improve outcomes in health care.

Todd ParkProvisions of the Affordable Care Act, for example, have helped to innovate care and payment models, Park said, noting a shift of payment away from volume and towards value of care. He said that “democratizing data,” evidenced by the Open Data Initiative of 2009 and a May 2013 executive order by President Obama to make open and affordable access to government information the norm, and financial incentives to use electronic health records have contributed to an acceleration of change in the field.

Through the Blue Button Movement, patients have gained access to their own health information online. “This has everything to do with big data,” Park said. And while privacy remains the chief concern of some, he noted many are eager to donate their data for research to improve health outcomes for themselves and others.

Park insisted that “there has never been a better time to be a health-care innovator” than the present, offering these departing words: “May the force be with you.”

Previously: Big Data in Biomedicine conference kicks off tomorrowChief technology officer of the United States to speak at Big Data in Biomedicine conferenceBig Data in Biomedicine technical showcase to feature companies’ innovations related to big data and U.S. Chief Technology Officer discusses health-care reform’s effects on innovation
Photo of Lloyd Minor (top) by Saul Bromberger; photo of Todd Park from @cdbustamante

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