* * Anonymous Doc

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A reader pointed me to this New York Times article: "Eye Anatomy at Camp? Kids Get Taste of Med Careers"

It's about middle-school students, as young as 12, taking part in medical camps at a variety of hospitals around the country, where they do things like dissect an eye, stitch up cuts on pigs' feet, prick their fingers to test their own blood type, and *run a mock code.*

From the article:

Paramedics race in a mannequin: A 45-year-old woman in cardiac arrest.

The kids, each assigned an ER job, spring into action under Wagner's direction. One pumps air into the "patient's" lungs. One inserts a tube to open the windpipe. Three trade off CPR. Another sets up the defibrillator, calling "Clear!" before each of three shocks. Others give injections of heart-stimulating drugs.

Ten minutes later, they abruptly fall quiet as Wagner asks how long they should keep trying before declaring death. No one volunteers.

"How often do patients pass away?" 14-year-old Lark Nash of Warrenton finally asks.

Probably once a week, Wagner responds, describing the hardest part of his job. Nurses reveal a body bag lining the bed, and the students zip it over the mannequin.

This is traumatic enough for a medical student. If the aim of the program is to scare children about death, and turn people off from ever wanting to walk into a hospital, I think it's a great idea. But why are we exposing 12-year-olds to body bags and defibrillators? What good is this doing? This isn't what the job is most of the time anyway. Why do we want to traumatize children?

There was a high school student shadowing me last week. I forgot how little we know in high school. I asked if he wanted to take the patient's blood pressure and he said yes... then looked at me blankly. So I showed him how. He told me at the end of the week that he realized now he never wants to see patients, so he's going to try to become a researcher instead of a doctor. "Why don't you want to see patients?" "They seemed so annoying and stupid." "They weren't stupid," I said. "A lot of them just aren't very well-informed, and that's what makes the job so important." "They didn't even speak English," he said. "That doesn't make them stupid." "And what about the one who didn't know that he could lose weight if he stopped eating french fries every day?" "I think a lot of people don't think about what they eat, unfortunately."

What we need isn't mock codes and defibrillator training. What we need is a real middle-school and high school health curriculum that students are required to take, to learn something about how their bodies work. Not the science of it, but the practical piece-- what blood pressure means, how diet and exercise impact weight and health, why cancer needs to be caught early, what can happen when you fall on your head, the difference between a cold and something worse, when to go to an emergency room, how to read nutrition labels on food, what you shouldn't stick inside of your mouth, nose, ears, genitals and rectum. Practical things like that. How not to get pregnant, although I thought that's what health classes already teach.

Patient yesterday with all of the signs of pregnancy. "When was your last period?" "I don't remember." "Is it possible you're pregnant." "No. We use birth control." "What kind of birth control?" "He pulls out." "That isn't birth control." "What?"

I had another patient who was feeling chest pain and walked a mile to the hospital instead of calling for an ambulance-- or even calling a friend to drive him. "Oh, I'm self-sufficient." "You're having a heart attack."

But middle-school kids need to learn about body bags and how to dissect an eye? Middle-school kids need to learn that pulling out is not birth control and they should rush to the ER if they're having crushing chest pain.


  1. This is so spot on. Your blog continues to be extremely refreshing, frank, as well as hilarious. I really enjoy it. Maybe you should abandon your pseudonym and start writing a health column for Psychology Today or the New York Times.

  2. They "teach" or at least touch on some of those things in school, throughout the years, but you know how it is. Memorize and repeat, test and forget. Lots of nutrition type talk in the earlier grades and it is not like the older ones don't know. They, like many adults who model for them, don't care or think "not me." Like it doesn't count for them. And I was told as a teen that people who use that method of birth control are called parents.

  3. they do teach those thing (atleast they do over here in the UK) however I like alot of people got to escape PSE (where they teach it) to do my science alevels early.

    also alot of the below average kids got extra maths/english help then instead.

  4. I have to agree with all the posters. Although I'm not sure all kids would be traumatized - my son (8) would think it was AWESOME. The more gore the better. Unfortunately kids are going to follow what their parents do and in the U.S. a lot of science and healthcare is politicized or considered a part of religion which is really frustrating. To see how much, check out the Miss America video where they ask participants if they think evolution (could easily be birth control imho) should be taught in schools. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkBmhM0R2A0 Keep in mind that they are COACHED to respond this way - which makes it more chilling.

  5. You know, I've read pulling out is 66% effective, which I thought was kind of impressive. Hey,it's more than 50%.

    I've always wondered if you mixed and matched various bc methods with decent failure rates, if you could match the 99% efficacy rate of the pill/condom?

    (Not that I advocate that, but, you know, in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, this info might come in handy.)

  6. I wouldn't have been traumatized at 12. And at 15 I was running codes as a lifeguard. Yes, infrequently, and no drugs, but they happen. and at I young age I loved to dissect things. Frankly I don't understand why anatomy and dissection traumatize med students so much. I do not see the problem with showcasing the interesting aspects of science to those who are interested. The kids sign up for it.

  7. Everyone knows that the only truly acceptable form of birth control is abstinence. After all, every sperm is sacred!

    Sarcasm aside, I basically agree with 12:36 pm. I'm less concerned about traumatizing kids (mine could take it) as giving them ideas. I can just imagine a 12-year-old racing up to a suddenly unconscious grandparent with a couple of feet of garden hose and trying to intubate based on a 30-minute mock code in last summer's medical camp.

  8. Hear hear! We DEFINITELY need better health education in school, and, for that matter, healthier foods in the cafeterias. Do you really expect a kid who's had access to a burger and fries every day to suddenly make an about face and start munching on salads.

  9. Don't you ever wish someone had showed you how mudheaded people at the clinic can be before you went through all the training? I think colleges should provide "job simulators" like this for a lot of jobs, to help you find which you're suited for.

  10. While I don't think there's anything wrong with what's going on at camp--I would have loved it--I agree that part of the health and health-care crisis in this country comes down to poor education. And I think you should submit this blog as a response to the NYT article you cite.