The Weekly Roundup: A Newsletter Series on Medical Humanities, Leadership, and Personal Development

Since the beginning of 2017, I have been sending a weekly newsletter that features articles, videos, podcasts from around the internet, medical literature, and anywhere else I dig up thought-provoking work.

Below is a sample of what comes in the Round-Up, which will find its way to your inbox on Sunday evenings.

If it interests you, feel free sign up. And if it looks like something a friend or loved one would enjoy, please pass it over to them.

Alright, here’s your sample of the Weekly Round Up:

Design Matters with Debbie Milman: An Interview With Gail Bichler

In this podcast, Debbie talks to New York Times Magazine design director, Gail Bichler, about magazine design and the role of the magazine cover in the digital age.

Despite the surface-level lack of connection to healthcare and the humanities, Gail talks much about being a part of a field during a time of extreme transition, and sticking to a craft despite overwhelming scrutiny and criticism. We all face these challenges in one way or another.

Bichler’s career trajectory, including how she navigated her rise to a fulfilling position, has universal lessons on approaching life’s unplanned turns, leveraging your skillsets, and embracing the one constant in life: change.

Doctors want to give their cancer patients every chance. But are they pushing off hard talks too long? By Bob Tedesch

The cancer therapy market has recently seen a rapid growth in novel drugs that make up the new field of immunotherapy.

While its efficacy has been revolutionary in a number of cases and has provided an especially valuable lifeline for late-stage patients who have run out of options, there is a growing concern that the treatments offer an escape route for physicians who do not want to have the difficult conversation about palliative care and hospice.

As oncologist and palliative care specialist Dr. Eric Roeland said, “It’s almost in lieu of having discussions about advance-care planning, so [physicians are] kicking the can down the street.”

You may hear me talk and write about polarities often, and this is another example of another ongoing tension we have to grapple with in healthcare: Hope and Reality.

The magic lies in uncovering where each patient’s optimum lies and helping them discover how to leverage the upsides of both hope and reality. That may mean hospice, it may mean immunotherapy, and it will likely mean both at different times.

We have to walk with them and be open to course-correction. That may mean making mistakes, it may mean backtracking, and it certainly means being human.

The toxic antidote to goodwill by Seth Godin

What is it? Not caring.

That’s how we lose both the trust of others and a connection to our humanity.

Seth, in his unrivaled ability to pack heaps of meaning in few words, reminds us why the choice to care is perhaps the most important one we make.

A few months ago, I talked about something similar in a short piece I wrote called Heroes Don’t Have to be Talented. Check it out, it’s only a two minute read.

‘A feature, not a bug’: George Church ascribes his visionary ideas to narcolepsy
By Sharon Begley

Abnormal does not mean diseased. In fact, an abnormality in the brain may be the reason why some individuals have a keen capacity for exceptional insights.

World-renowned geneticist and one of the father’s of next generation genome sequencing, George Church, is a prime example and advocate of this idea.

Church has narcolepsy, which he attributes to his most creative thoughts about his research.

From the article: “Church said “almost all” of his visionary ideas and scientific solutions have come while he was either asleep or quasi-asleep, sometimes dreaming, at the beginning or end of a narcoleptic nap.”

We often think that we do patients a service by ‘fixing’ their differences or by decreasing their diversity and bringing them back towards ‘normal.’

Is “sameness” really “better?”

Do we undersell the benefits of diversity when we try to ‘fix’ people that aren’t broken in the first place?

How do our perspectives on medical diversity influence our views on cultural and social diversity?

These are the questions Church’s articles has me asking. What are you thinking?

Medical Students Fall Short on Blood Pressure Check Challenge by Jennifer Abbasi

A recent study on physical exam skills in medical students found that, of one hundred fifty-nine students from medical schools in 37 states who were assessed on an 11-element skillset on BP measurement, only one student demonstrated proficiency on all 11 skills. The mean number of elements performed properly was 4.1.

An article like this precipitates a variety of justifications for the student’s poor performance and a slew of criticisms of medical education.

Some blame the preclinical curriculum and a lack of preparation. Others blame the “hidden curriculum” that medical students see during their clinical years– the series of shortcuts and compromises that physicians must make due to the overwhelming time constraints of the modern medical system.

And still, there’s a third group who says, “who cares? We should be automating this skill by now. Why is medicine so far behind?”

As a proponent of bedside medicine, physical diagnosis, and the seemingly dying art of medicine, you can guess what my take is.

I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Is this worth worrying about? If so, what can we do to make it better?

Audacious Philanthropy by Susan Wolf Ditkoff and Abe Grindle

From the eradication of polio to the development of the 911 emergency line, to the economic scale of reduced-price school lunches, philanthropy has spurred some of most impactful social advancements. Yes, that kind of philanthropy- the nonprofits that operate to serve their customers, not their shareholders.

Yet, despite philanthropies’ storied past of moonshot successes, today’s list of breakthroughs sees few philanthropic organizations in its ranks. This articles seeks to examine how nonprofits and philanthropy can reclaim its place as a driver of innovation.

I will also add that, as J.D. Kleinke points out in Oxymorons: The Myth of a U.S. Healthcare System, the most cost-efficient, high-value hospitals are the non-profits (see: Kaiser).

Quote of the Week:

“This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.”Rebecca Solnit, discussing hope in dark times.

That wraps it up for this week!

As always, feel free forward this to someone who may enjoy it and suggest they sign up by emailing me at, reaching out on Twitter (@JackPenner), or signing up below.

Jack Penner

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