Remembering medicine's tailwinds
By Joseph Hesse, MD Texas Medicine April 2018

Try to recall a time in your life when you have gone for a run on a windy day.

While running against the wind, it’s hard to think about anything except how unpleasant it is to be struggling against this invisible force. Every second you spend fighting against the wind becomes more intolerable.

Until, finally! You turn a corner and the wind is at your back. You feel so relieved and grateful … for a total of maybe, 10 seconds? 

Isn’t it strange how every second against the wind is unbearable, yet most of the time that the wind is at our back, we don’t even notice. This is a psychological phenomenon called “Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry” and it is a built-in bias that we all have on the perception of our own experiences.

It’s so easy to point out the things going wrong in our lives, and often we forget to think about the good things we have going for us, pushing us along like the wind at our backs.

There is value in identifying this bias. Studies have consistently shown that gratitude is strongly correlated with happiness.2

Dear readers, with all this in mind, I’d like you to join me in a brief exercise of “Headwinds/Tailwinds of Medicine.” Try to recall some recent conversations, or news articles, or even personal thoughts regarding the present and/or future of medicine. 

In my experience, I can see a lot of “headwinds.” Bleak news about the increasing complexities of medical politics, insurance nightmares, physician burnout, rising costs, and disillusionment, just to name a few. 

With all these negative things that we physicians face on a daily basis, it is very easy to forget about what is actually going quite well. 

For some examples, I’d like to present my “Top 5 Medicine Tailwinds:” 

  1. Medicine Works. We are living longer each generation. Since just 1960, global life expectancy has risen by 19 years (from 52 to 71).3
  2. Evidence-Based Medicine. EBM didn’t become a mainstream term until the 1990s.4 Fifty years ago most clinical decisions were based upon opinions/advice from prominent experts. It has only been in the past half-decade or so that medicine shifted from almost entirely “eminence-based” to a truly objective and reproducible science. It means our decisions are guided by facts and standardized research rather than anecdotes.
  3. Medical Imaging Advances. A hundred years ago, an X-ray required up to 10 minutes of continuous radiation exposure for a single, low-res image. Now we can harness X-rays, radioactive liquids, sound waves, and magnetic resonance to see inside the body with micrometer precision, and without radiation in the case of an MRI.
  4. Exciting Research: Genetics. We have just scratched the surface of the potential benefits that genomic analysis/editing can have on medicine. With the promising new “CRISPR” method of genome editing, we can look forward to more control over stem cell engineering. Being able to grow an organ in a lab for transplant or research is a legitimate future possibility.5
  5. We Are Still Respected. Very often the role of physician can feel like a thankless job. At times, it might feel like the integrity of the entire profession is going down the drain. The truth, though, is that physicians are still as well-respected as ever. According to multiple Harris polls on “Occupational Prestige” dating from the 1970s to as recent as 2016, the occupation of physician has consistently ranked in the No. 1 spot.6  

These are five examples of things that I take for granted, that I am grateful for, or that give me hope.  I encourage you to take a minute to think about some of your own “tailwinds.” It just might help to give you a happier, more productive day. 

Joseph Hesse, MD, graduated from The University of Texas Medical Branch and currently is in his first year of family medicine residency at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. Swati Avashia, MD, FAAP, FACP, an assistant professor in Population Health at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, is a contributing author on this piece.

References  

  1. Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2016). The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 835–851. 
  2. Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.
  3. Data from the World Bank Group
  4. Guyatt, G. (1992). Evidence-Based Medicine. JAMA, 268(17), 2420. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1992.03490170092032
  5. Parrington, John. “Is Medicine Ready for Clinical CRISPR?” TheScientist, 1 Dec. 2016, www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/47500/title/Is-Medicine-Ready-for-Clinical-CRISPR-/.
  6. www.theharrispoll.com  
Tex Med. 2018;114(4):14
April 2018 Texas Medicine Contents
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February 07, 2019

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