NEWS OF MEDICAL
COLLEGE AND GRADUATE
My wife and I are fortunate to spend time near Sarasota, Florida. John Ringling, who was
a founder of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, decided in the late Twenties
to have the circus, both animals and performers, winter in the Sarasota region. The
area is replete with circus memorabilia and with subtle reminders of that era.
So it was that two recent events triggered some thoughts about medicine, progress, and
balance in life.
The first was that the company that owns the circus decided to shut it down. The
reason is simply that times have changed. What was an engaging and awe-inspiring
spectacle to children and families for over 100 years is now slow and totally passé. Its
passing brought to my mind how much and how quickly things change in our society,
and in our profession.
When I was an intern, the pharmacopoeia was readily mastered. Today, new drugs are
coming to market at an increasingly rapid pace, and the bench-to-bedside utility of
these drugs is more powerful than ever before. I was describing to my wife my student
experiences in my surgery rotation, and how I enjoyed scrubbing in on gallbladder
surgeries. I told her that now, with laparoscopic methods, surgery is faster and less
invasive, and patients and hospitals are happier. So, like the circus having to adapt or
go under, we too have to adapt or lose the faith of our patients.
The second Sarasota event that provided some food for thought was the high-wire act
of the Flying Walendas. The Walendas live in and around Sarasota. They help train
fledgling high-wire acts for circuses around the world. They were practicing a high-wire
pyramid, where about eight people are coordinated in an elongated, vertical rectangle,
when someone lost their balance and the entire structure in the sky collapsed.
Fortunately, no one lost their life, but a number of the performers were severely injured.
The accident brought to mind the “high-wire act” that is involved today in the practice
of medicine. Patients, learning, skill sets, family, regulations—all have to be balanced
in a tricky equipoise that is, frankly, often beyond a normal person’s capabilities. How
to keep the entire structure balanced and in the air is a challenge for all physicians.
How to give those physicians tools to assist them in this complex high-wire act is
something we need to do better. As a profession, we need to enable our colleagues to
admit that the balancing act is very difficult. By creating an open dialogue and a
feeling of camaraderie we can help to prevent early burnout, tensions within our
families, and patient discontent.
As spring turns to summer, I hope all of you reading this can find a happy balance to
your life, both professionally and personally.
Stuart Mushlin, MD ’73
President, Weill Cornell Medical College Alumni Association