Titanic, numbers, medicine

Coming to the end of study week creativity, and blog wars (which I clearly won, muhaha).

During study week, I spent more time on numbers, than I did on medicine. Mean, median, life tables, cumulative incidence, incidence rate, binomial distribution, normal distribution, and so on. Statistics. Yawn? I thought it would be. But it was fascinating, the assumptions and stories behind these ways we use to summarise information.

One set of data really caught my attention. Survival of passengers aboard Titanic (see more detailed figures and analysis). What a story numbers tell!

"Those poor poor people," my friend said. Indeed, it does not take long before you feel the injustice seeping through the page (computer screen). Were the rich informed first? Were the poor systematically excluded from the lifeboats? Was wealth a measure of how much a person's life was worth? There are even journal papers discussing these questions.

The numbers tell a more noble story too, of how women and children were preferentially saved. It's sad - picturing these agonising decisions of who should live, and who should not. The rush, the terror, the scramble to safety, before your ship sinks out in the middle of a cold, cold ocean. Chilling too to wonder, when it comes down to it, would I not also push people out of the way to survive?

Would the movie Titanic be more powerful than these numbers, in impressing these images and emotions within me? I have never watched Titanic by the way, so I could find out, if I wanted to.

Working out answers to mathematical questions recaptured a period of time before university when I really enjoyed learning. The type of interest which consumed you, as much as a good novel you were reading, or a drawing you were working on. Not that maths was my favourite, but I have always enjoyed working out problems, doing questions to learn (like physics). Rather than areas which relies heavily on descriptions, and a good memory (like biology, which I didn't take up for that very reason). When I can and do study, the week before exams is usually one of my favourite weeks of the semester - sleep, eat, procrastinate, study, repeat. But I think, the contrast between intriguing Titanic figures and preparing for exams, has reminded me once more of why I don't find the subject of medicine very exciting.

I have come a long way from first year where I truly fell asleep through almost an entirety of one lecture, every single day. Sometimes I didn't understand the words they used, other times I couldn't see how I was supposed to remember step by step, what goes on in some long and boring biological pathway. Then somewhere during clinical school, I realised to my delight that understanding and problem solving was part of medicine too. Having not much knowledge of the details, you can still work out a basic history to ask, physical exam to perform, investigations to perform, or management issues to consider, for any condition or presentation.

You can get by with that, but it can only get you so far. You will always have those random lists which don't make sense. Obscure symptoms and signs which are barely logical, eponymous names which collect symptoms which should not even exist together, specific terms for radiological findings, associated conditions - some which feel associated, but most which feel unrelated, criteria for scoring for diagnosis or prognosis, staging systems for malignancies. Then drugs, with their hard to pronounce names, side effects which affect every system, dosages which can sometimes vary with brands, even for the same generic medication. Or expected values for this and that blood test. Or fanciful bacteria and parasite names, or body parts in full glorious Latin. And so many acronyms and mnemonics, that I might remember something amusing like I GET SMASHED (aetiology of pancreatitis), but barely remember what each letter stands for.

To be more than mediocre, you do need to remember tiring terms, long lists and fantastic figures. Physician training, or most areas of medicine really, seem to favour people with good memories. Which I lack; I would say, in general people don't get excited about an area that they are not good at. So I wonder at times, would I better utilise my strengths elsewhere, or would there be a suitable area in medicine? Or, would that matter less when you spend more time working and learning, rather than reading and learning? Would people be interesting enough that it wouldn't matter how interesting or disinteresting anything else was? I don't know, but I guess we will know, in time.



Design in CSS by TemplateWorld and sponsored by SmashingMagazine
Blogger Template created by Deluxe Templates