NY Med

The makers of ABC documentary series Boston Med (at MGH, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Children’s Hospital) and Hopkins (at Hopkins) are finished with their newest awesome show NY Med (at NewYork-Presbyterian).

Viewers have always loved these shows because they take months of filming and distill it to the 500 most dramatic minutes. Naturally, this means a heavy emphasis on surgeons (YES), emergency physicians, and emotional patient stories. The show also always manages to get a really diverse set of characters.

NY Med is no exception, at least from what I can tell from the press releases.

The most famous star of the show is Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz, better known as Oprah’s go-to doc for lending credibility to alternative medicine practices and peddling nutritional advice. (T’s first impression of him was on Oprah, telling people about the virtues of broccoli.) I was surprised to learn that he has a legit position as a cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbia and a vice chairman of the department of surgery. What’s more, he was a Harvard undergrad and got his MD/MBA from Penn/Wharton.

Given his support for quackery ranging from Reiki, hypnosis, homeopathy, to transcendental meditation, I am very curious as to how he practices surgery. To what extent does he value evidence-based practices? Is he authoritarian or open-minded? Does he seem like a salesman toward patients? How does he balance his surgical practice with his celebrity media life?

Digression: TIME recently noted that Dr. Oz, a Muslim, is helping Rick Warren, the evangelical Christian super-pastor and author of The Purpose-Driven Life, run a faith-based healthy living and eating program (“The Daniel Plan,” after the book of Daniel). The evangelicals welcome Oz and Daniel Amen, a Jewish psychiatrist, as “friends” of the effort but nevertheless maintain that they’re going to hell because only the Christian teachings from the Bible are 100% correct. I wonder whether these doctors partake because they believe that this kind of faith community-driven initiative will actually be effective in cutting down the waist size of the Bible Belt, or because they have an affinity for activities with celebrity exposure. I think it’s both.

Also on the NY Med will be Dr. Tomoaki Kato, described in the press release as a “maverick Japanese surgeon.” A profile from the men’s magazine Esquire describes Kato’s pioneering, huge-balls “ex vivo surgery”:

Tomoaki Kato, a soft-spoken forty-seven-year-old man from Japan has figured out how to remove the kind of grotesque tumor that smothers a person’s insides: Take the insides out. Everything. Sever the arteries, lift the organs en bloc onto a table, cut and scrape the tumor away, and put the organs back in.

Given that Kato has only done a small handful of these ever, it’s amazing that the film crew captured one. (Even more amazingly, Boston Med got the whole story of the Brigham’s first face transplant, including an extended interview with the donor himself [that is, before he died and his family donated his face!].) The 22-hour-long part sounds awful and bad-ass at the same time.

Kato is chief of abdominal organ transplantation at Columbia/Presbyterian.

I don’t recall anyone on these shows being portrayed negatively on the whole. Yet, according to a Columbia med student, many in the medicine department were resistant to the idea of an ABC film crew intruding on their day-to-day because they were afraid that catching something negative would harm their careers. Could this say something about the difference between medicine and surgery? If you’ll allow me to stereotype, perhaps surgeons love the flashy displays of heroicism and are more willing to risk public displays of failure.

This is a difference that goes to the core of the medicine vs. surgery divide that Charles Bosk noted in his book Forgive and Remember. Surgical intervention are so definitive and drastic of an intervention that when it works, you attribute it to the surgeon, and when it doesn’t, you attribute it to the surgeon. You cut, you took out the tumor or set the bones, you did it. In contrast, medical interventions, as well as psychiatric interventions, are drawn out, more variable insofar as they involve different combinations or concentrations of drugs that often work gradually, and vulnerable to factors far from the practitioner’s control like patient adherence. When it doesn’t work, you can easily attribute the failure to the drug or the patient’s biology or behavior. But when it does work, there’s less glory for yourself.

In any case, watch these cool (mostly surgical) docs on NY Med, which premieres July 10 at 10 p.m., eastern time, on ABC. Seven more episodes will follow throughout the summer.

You can catch all episodes of Boston Med here.

If you manage to find episodes of Hopkins online or buy off iTunes, at least watch the one with Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, the illegal immigrant-turned-construction worker-turned Harvard med student and then Hopkins neurosurgeon. His story has been well-documented in the NYTimes and the university news office. His workaholic attitude and absurd slave-driving practices, such as calling lab members for updates at 6am on his drive to work, were detailed in a Nature news feature. Check it out!

-C

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3 thoughts on “NY Med

  1. Re: Dr. Oz

    “I am very curious as to how he practices surgery. To what extent does he value evidence-based practices? Is he authoritarian or open-minded?”

    Once you start medical school, you’ll see the more accurate surgeon stereotype is the one Dr. Oz embodies: bro-ish extrovert who isn’t too keen on EBM/literature. Pensive contemplation and evidence-based medicine are for the internal medicine “wonks.”

    If you tell any of your superiors that you’re interested in surgery during the first 2 years, they’ll say: “Surgery?! You’re too smart for surgery. Why waste all of your education just to learn how to be a technician?” I wish I were joking.

    • Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I’ve heard that several times now from other med students and each time I wish it weren’t true. I wish that, even if it may be true, that there is room for rising surgeons who go against that grain.

      • Well, the good news is that there’s certainly room for cerebral, well-read surgeons, especially at the academic meccas. It’s just that the culture generally doesn’t foster those characteristics, for a variety of reasons that I’m sure you can imagine.

        You’ll just have to find yourself a Gawande-esque mentor and latch on tightly. They’re out there but aren’t necessarily the loudest or most visible.

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