Four Life Lessons from Medical School

Austin and Galveston

After four exciting and formative years, I finally graduated from Harvard Medical School a few weeks ago. Aside from the abundance of bedside manner, physiology, pathophysiology, and procedural skills that I learned, here are the top four life lessons that I took away from the experience:

  1. Stay humble.
  2. Never be afraid to ask questions.
  3. Maintain balance between work and life — it makes both much more enjoyable.
  4. Stay plugged into your supports (faith, family, and friends).

AT

 

Advertisements

Tapping Into the Ingenuity of Ethiopian Wheat Farmers: Exploitation or One for the Greater Good?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Durum wheat. While it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as corn within the diets of millions worldwide, durum comprises the second-largest grain market in the world. As a pasta lover, I’m certainly aware of my minor contribution to the multi-billion dollar global durum wheat trade.  Interestingly, a recent article on Bioversity International brought my attention to a groundbreaking January 2016 article by Mengitsu, et. al. in the Plant Biotechnology Journal that will likely lead to major expansion of the durum wheat market worldwide. In this study, researchers performed genetic analysis and association mapping on a large number of durum wheat landraces bred and cultivated over centuries by Ethiopian wheat farmers. Much to their surprise, the researchers (the majority whom are Ethiopan themselves) found not only that there was a significant amount of genetic diversity between the different landraces, but also that many of these landraces of durum wheat are particularly well-suited to withstand the ever-increasing pressures of climate change (given various characteristics such as growth pattern and pest resistance). The amount of genetic diversity between durum wheat strains has declined significantly over the past few decades due to the monoculture, mass-production approach that has become the norm among wheat farmers worldwide. Unfortunately this has meant that local farmers are increasingly left with few options for wheat varieties best-suited to survive in the setting in which they live. Thus, one could easily argue that the identification of these genetically diverse and hearty variants could mean improved economic stability for wheat farmers worldwide.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

However, thoughts of groundbreaking changes to a global market made me wonder: how can we be sure this development won’t turn into yet another example of the exploitation of local ingenuity by Western enterprise? After all, if these landraces become the new global standard for durum wheat, would the world’s largest wheat producers actually provide royalties to the farmers whose ancestors brilliantly developed these variants?

If Monsanto can make billions for creating pesticide-resistant crops, I think so should anyone that has what it takes to revolutionize a global market. As usual, only time will tell whether the world’s wheat producers will resist the temptation to exploit and instead choose to support the farmers who made their success even greater.

-AT

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

SOMATIC LISTEN™ Music Review: “Rocking Chairs” – Jesse Harris (ft. Norah Jones)

The SOMATIC LISTEN™ Music Review:

Copyright GoBrainy® 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright GoBrainy® 2016. All Rights Reserved.

This refreshing acoustic bossa nova-esque piece is by none other than the man who wrote such works as “Don’t Know Why” (yes, the one that became one of Norah Jones’ biggest successes) and composed “Come Away with Me” (another Norah Jones great). Having perused his lengthy discography for an incomprehensible number of hours in my free time, singer/songwriter/composer Jesse Harris has quickly become one of my favorite musical artists. Simply put, he has a knack for capturing the essence of what it means to be relaxed in the form of music. I have to admit, I am a fanatic for nearly every type of Brazilian music from traditional northeastern capoeira to the early 60’s bossa nova of Caetano and Chico to the 70’s MPB e funk of Jorge Ben, Nascimento and Maia to the 00’s rock of Charlie Brown, Jr. and Los Hermanos to the rap of Slim Rimografia and O Rappa. Thus, when I first heard the clean finger-picked guitar intro to this track, I could already tell that the experience to follow would be solid. It goes without saying that for a guy in New York, Jesse Harris created just the right balance of rhythm and harmony found in so many songs by the likes of Gal Costa and Jorge Ben in the 70s.

Bird on elephant

The aura that is developed throughout the song is simply incredible. As a bassist myself, I am a major proponent of a simple, heavy bass line that carries a simple melody on its back, almost like a cattle egret sitting atop an elephant. The bird is without a doubt the star of the show, but the elephant supplies the strength, stability, and contrast that truly makes the scene powerful. Trust me, it is so tempting to complicate the bass line, but I’m ever so grateful that Mr. Harris kept it simple not only in this song but also almost all of his other compositions. Specifically, the never-ending sway of whole notes serves not only as a brilliant background for the arpeggiated lead guitar and simple acoustic guitar chord structure, but also makes it nearly impossible for the listener to avoid swaying back and forth as though they are actually sitting in a rocking chair. The drums undoubtedly help with this phenomenon. The closed-hat- and snare-heavy rhythm provides a breezy, summertime sound that I’m used to only hearing in tracks like “Barato Total” by Gal Costa.

The vocals in this track are also quite stellar. If you listen closely to the verses and chorus after the introduction, you will hear the incredible Norah Jones delicately mixed in to provide a beautifully designed harmony. I’m a big fan of singers that take a more subdued approach to their vocals. Have you ever heard of Japanese artist Kahimi Karie, who is one of the few artists to sing all of her songs in a delicate whisper? How about Aussie sensation Angus Stone’s song “Big Jet Plane” in which he delivers a dramatic message of love through the meager voice of an ever-relaxed global wanderer. I’m telling you, it works. On top of all of that, the lyrics to this Jesse Harris track create surprisingly vivid scenery that goes great with the détendu aura of the music as a whole. 

I dare you to listen to this track and not leave calmer than when you began. Thank God for music.

Stay tuned for the next installation of The SOMATIC LISTEN™ Music Review in which I will review “Stay” by Gary Clark, Jr.

 

 

Video: Unequal Access to Education for the Disabled Worldwide

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

– Article 26, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations

Such a simple statement, isn’t it? Education is and should always be a universal human right. It affords us opportunity, enrichment, socialization, and self-empowerment. Societies across the globe, however, have always struggled with one concept: inclusion. Similar to computers, the human brain operates by and large by discrimination. Not discrimination in the social sense per se (although that’s an entirely separate topic which could be discussed for days), but by discriminating between positive and negative, light and dark, yes and no. On a macro scale, given our propensity to differentiate between those who seem most similar to the majority and those who are different, it is not surprising that everyone from children on a playground to leaders of societies worldwide have not only identified these differences, but have acted on them in favor of those who most match their appearance, ideology, or even social status.

Physical and intellectual disability is, unfortunately no different. When faced with the decision to invest in the disabled by providing them with suitable education and accessible social infrastructure, many leaders prefer to nurture the non-disabled while the others suffer.  It is fair to say that disability in many regions of the world equates to a life sentence as a marginalized member of society to whom basic human rights are not granted.  A recent report by Human Rights Watch states that an estimated 500,000 children with disabilities have been rejected by the South African school system. As the clip from Human Rights Watch below shows, finding education for disabled children is an unnecessarily daunting task in many nations.

So how can this issue be solved? As you probably expected, the answer is inclusion. To do so, however, requires increased awareness on the part of not only governments worldwide, but also society as a whole of the true capital that disabled peoples worldwide have to offer. A study by Deloitte Access Economics in which the economic impact of increasing inclusion of disabled people in the workforce of Australia by 10% was modeled to result in a $40 billion increase in Australia’s GDP over the next decade, or a $43 billion increase in GDP if unemployment also decreased by 0.9%. 

Interestingly, I imagine that simply informing governments of the potential financial gains that would come from empowering the disabled through education and workforce inclusion may not be a sufficient impetus for them to actually enact change. The real change, in my opinion, needs to come from the community level such that communities worldwide begin recognizing that education is a human right that should be denied to no one, especially given the immense potential that people with physical and intellectual disability have once fully empowered. This is no small task, but by changing public views of the disabled, great strides can surely be taken on the path toward universal education.

-AT

Video: Harvard Medical School Die-In — December 10, 2014

On December 10, 2014, students at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard School of Public Health participated in the National White Coat Die-In in the memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  Here is a short film I made to document the event.

“Like so many American institutions, the medical profession is not immune to racial bias.” – Chidi Akusobi (Harvard MD/PhD Candidate)

We challenge OUR PROFESSION:

  • To recognize institutionalized racism across social systems as a public health crisis and a key determinant of health disparities between racial groups
  • To confront manifestations of systemic racism in the American healthcare system and address them with systemic reforms
  • To leverage its social platform in anti-racism advocacy efforts

We challenge OUR INSTITUTION:

  • To prioritize cultural competency and cultural humility as core principles in curriculum reform efforts
  • To include critical conversations about institutionalized racism and its impact on health outcomes across every level of training in the HMS curriculum
  • To aggressively pursue racial and ethnic diversity among students, faculty, and senior leadership

We challenge OURSELVES AND OUR PEERS:

  • To become aware of the legacy of systemic racism in the United States and its impact on the lives of many Americans
  • To participate in efforts to resist and eradicate systemic racism in health care delivery
  • To acknowledge and confront our own personal biases

#BlackLivesMatter
#WhiteCoats4BlackLives