6 easy tips: a beginners guide to staying news-savvy

A big part of my job is monitoring studies that are going to come out in major medical journals and helping decide which are newsworthy. This means that I get to read these studies while they are still under “embargo” and not available to the general public. Journals do this so that news outlets can plan their coverage. For example, last week the World Health Organization launched a massive report on Antimicrobial Resistance (which includes antibiotic resistance). They sent it around to major media organizations so that when the report was actually released to the public- we had already interviewed experts and our piece was ready to go.

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Staying current and connected even while on location in Lebanon

What I love is opening up the paper or reading my daily “medical news roundups” and already knowing all the headlines. It’s an incredibly nerdy thrill but but I like keeping abreast of topics that are relevant to my career. I actually think it will make me a much better physician if I am up to date on the current research and controversies. So I intend to stay on top of the news coverage.

This can be very intimidating. The good news is that you don’t need to devote hours to stay current on current events. Here are some tips for people hoping to stay up to date:

  1. Get a subscription to a real old fashioned paper. If it’s sitting in front of you, you’re more likely to browse and read stories that might not have attracted your attention enough to click.
  2. Have a routine and use bookmarks to help: I have a bookmarks folder in my browser with 5 news sites that I check every morning when turn on my phone or sit down at my desk. I click through and
  3. Get email digests: for general news I subscribed to OZY’s Presidential Daily Brief. For medical news I subscribe to a few sites including email alerts from Medpage. These places curate emails and summarize the news of the day. If I miss something with my usual browsing, 9 time out of 10 it will show up in an email digest. I mostly delete them after skimming the headlines unless I find something that interests me.
  4. Use social media: Twitter is a great way to stay up-to-date. I follow the New York Times (@nytimes), the Associated Press (@AP), NBC News (@NBCNews) and many other outlets. They all post quick tweets with their breaking stories. I also follow other reporters or newsmakers who often post articles that I never would have otherwise read. I also appectiate my friends on Facebook who post interesting stories. In fact, I am currently developing a story for NBC News based on an article my friend posted.
  5. Consider downloading an app:  if I find an article I like on Twitter, Facebook, online etc- I often don’t have time to read it in real time. So I download it to my “read later” app which stores the story on my phone or computer so that I can read it later even if I’m not connected to the internet. This is especially great for subway/train commuters. Here is an article comparing a few of the most popular apps.
  6. Don’t get too ambitious: unless it’s your job it’s very difficult to be 100% on top of all news. If this is your goal, you will get overwhelmed and risk abandoning your efforts all together. Start by skimming headlines of one news site each day and build up as you see fit.

Happy reading everyone.

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My first NBC bylines and 15 minutes of fame

I’ve been working up a storm here at 30 Rockefeller center- NBC’s headquarters in Midtown, NYC. I do a lot of “vetting” medical studies- looking at the “embargoed” research that is going to come out in the next few weeks and help decide which ones might be “newsworthy” for the general public. But I’m also a sort of jack or all trades when it comes to medical research: I might be asked to write up a list of heart healthy foods, dispel some myths about concussions or summarize the current research on treating headaches.

bullyingBut I’ve also found some time to keep writing. I have a regular gig writing about healthy aging and palliative care for a Stanford website. I also have written two pieces so far for NBC.com:

In general it’s a lot like medical school. Mostly studying and research but with some moments of excitement mixed in. In med school we have something called “pimping” where a superior puts you on the spot and asks you a question in front of everyone while you are rounding on your patients. “Hayley, what are the reasons that we need to thin a patient’s blood with Heparin before just keeping them on Coumadin?” They might ask. It’s hardly surprising that I love it- I love having to think on my feet. Here it’s no different, except that the “attending physician” in this case might be NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and he might be asking you in front of the whole team whether or not something is new in the medical community or constitutes breaking news. But the thrill is essentially the same thing.

I also needed to share a project I had been working on last year with the University of Pennsylvania- and my good friends in the alumni office (shoutout to LSK)- it was a video created for the “Making History” Campaign and I was asked to represent the medical school. It was certainly a shock: do they know I’m the girl who lost her keys a grand total of 3 times year? Or the one who forgot her white coat on the first week of rotations? I’m also the girl who essentially subsisted on Trader Joe’s frozen edamame and trail mix while my classmates cooked gourmet dinners, raised puppies and ran marathons– but obviously an honor. Most importantly it was an honor to be featured alongside my mentor Dr. Kovarik. So here is a little sneak peak:

Journalism roundup

IMG_8285It’s been strange to be out of the clinical world for this long. Sometimes I find myself striving to remember the name of a disease or drug that would have been second nature to me last year. On the other hand, it’s been great to look at medicine from the outside in – it’s given me a perspective that is hard to achieve when you are mired in the thick of it.

Here are some pieces that I’ve recently published. Any thoughts, suggestions and comments are welcome!

  1. Flu shot story + podcast/slideshow
  2. An opinion column on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) and medical students
  3. Cost containment in dermatology. I got to interview the president of the American Academy of Dermatology! 
  4. Local forum on the Affordable Care Act
  5. Superheros at the children’s hospital!

In case you missed them: there are also a few pieces that I published while in IndiaIMG_4202

  1. Living with leprosy
  2. Unhealthy eating in college campuses
  3. Leprosy in the modern world

I like myself better when I travel

ImageI like myself better when I am living in a different country. ButImage I don’t think it’s due to some neurochemical reaction to foreign soil. Rather, it has to do with how I approach life when I travel. I thought that by dissecting it, perhaps I could import some of these attitudes. I can think of no finer souvenir.

I accept minor setbacks:  Somehow when I am traveling I find it easier to understand that the journey is the destination. When I am abroad, minor (and major) inconveniences of life become hilarious- part of the experience! But when I am home, they grate on me and try my patience. I want to remember that patience and a go with the flow attitude should not be exclusive to international travel. And while a delayed train from Penn Station isn’t as exotic as a lost rickshaw driver or a cow-related roadblock, it would behoove me to remember that life is not about rushing from point A to point B.

I am more accepting: I am also more inclined to be accepting of others when I Imageam a guest in another culture. Certainly I don’t believe in cultural relativism when it comes to “big” things like child abuse or domestic violence. But for the small tensions of daily life I endeavor to understand others instead of judge them. But a quote I once read said something wise: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (attributed, most thing wrongly, to Plato). And that is no less Imagetrue of what I consider boorish behavior in the US.

I am kind to myself: I am also more accepting of myself. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because travel brings out what I feel is my best self? Or maybe I am too involved with immersion to be preoccupied with the narcissism of daily life? Or conversely, I am more introspective? ImageImageWhatever the reason, I find that negative self talk is minimized when I get off of the plane.

I am a “yes woman.” I am more open to new experiences. I am the consummate “yes woman” when I travel. Eat this homemade food? Read this book? Wear this dress? Meet your friend? Dance in front of a crowd? Try to cook this? Explore an unknown street? Have a cup of tea with you/your brother/cousin/wife/cow? Don’t mind if I do. This led to me playing an elaborate game of tag with a huge extended family outside a Jain temple, eating as the guest of honor with a Gujarati group at an ashram, dancing in front of a large group of Indian women during a holiday celebration and countless other memories.

I would do well to import this adventurous spirit and open myself up to new things even if they make me anxious.

I push myself. Similarly, this “yes” attitude leads to a commitment to squeeze the marrow out of my experience. I push myself to plan weekend trips, savor moments, take photographs, make new friends. Something about the experience being finite leads increased motivation to Imagemake the most of my time. But my time in any place is finite and there is no reason not to expend the same energy and create memories on US soil.

Down for the count

ImageAs I alluded to in a previous post, a few weeks ago I fell prey to the plague. And by plague I mean a mild, self-limited illness. I won’t bore (or disgust) you with the details of my exact symptoms and their precise timing but suffice it to say that my intermittent fever to 103 had me worried that I might have malaria.

Of course, this wasn’t my Imagefirst thought. I had been engaging in some unscrupulous food practices: street food, unpasteurized buffalo milk, fresh veggies likely washed in not super clean water…pick your poison. So I had every reason for a bout of the famed Delhi-belly with only myself to thank.

But my second thought was that I have the dreaded MalariaDengueFeverSyphilisEbolaPlague. ImageWhatever it was, I felt awful enough to miss work (and as a medical student we are basically trained not to miss work unless we can also produce a death certificate) so I heeded my coworkers and went to the doctor here even though I knew I didn’t have any exciting physical exam findings. She listened to my lungs, pressed on my belly and raised her eyes disapprovingly when I mentioned my culinary exploits. “An Imageadventurous one, huh?” Alas, her eyes said what my conscious was already screaming: you stupid foreigner- a few long stints in Africa do not a steel stomach make.

I went to get my blood drawn near my house instead of at the fancy-shmancy medical center. For less than $3 they would come to my house to do it (perks of living in India) but the lab is literally Imagearound the corner from me so I managed to make it there. Now I am super paranoid and had brought my own needles to India (yes, you read that correctly). But in my weakened state I had left them at home. So, with visions of Hep C swimming in my brain, I became The. Worst. Patient. Ever. I demanded to see the technician open the needle, asked her to Purell, declined their communal spray bottle of (presumably) alcohol to cleanse my skin (I Purelled my own arm) and generally was a pain in her butt.

The cost for all my paranoia? 1,300 rupees for physician consultation ($21.50), another 1,300 for all my lab work including full blood count with cell differential (measures what type of cells are in your blood), blood cultures, sedimentation rate (measures inflammation) and peripheral blood smear (to look for malaria).Image

And the results? Well that is PHI: protected health information. Just kidding! I was, unsurprisingly, stone-cold normal with a slightly elevated sedimentation rate that means a big fat nothing.

Did I learn from my mishaps? That would be too intelligent. Two days after I recovered I was at a huge Sikh temple eating a free communal meal with hundreds of people. But when my coworkers mentioned family members with similar symptoms I deduced the true origin of my downfall- unrelated to my food-related stupidity. Bon appetit everyone!

Note for my grandmother: I am obviously exaggerating a bit here. I am far from cavalier about my food intake: I use a Imagesteripen to sterilize water or drink bottled water and avoid street food unless things are cooked in high heat. But, as I stated in my Baroda post- there are certain calculated risks I’m willing to take: you don’t refuse fresh Buffalo milk! And as you can see- I’m alive and well.

Travels in Thailand Part 1

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I can’t believe how derelict I’ve been in chronicling some of my adventures. I went to Bangkok for a week for a conference  and took 2 days after to explore. It was one of my all time favorite trips but it will be too boring to describe in detail so I will give you the highlight reel: 

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1. International Leprosy Summit/photojournalism.  I went to help with the International Leprosy Summit. My not-so-secret dermatology nerd was immensley pleased to marry my twin passions of derm/infectious disease with global and public health. The meeting was a great success and I was so excited to see that a photo I took was used on a giant poster that will also be distributed internationally and was used in international newspapers!

2. Bangkok/street food: I stayed in a budget hotel right next to one of Bangkok’s night markets, Patpong,  in an area called Silom which boasts some delectable street food. I am not a foodie by any means (my “cooking” is more along the lines of eating raw veggies and trader joe’s frozen dinners with the occasional sauteed spinach or brussel sprout/stir fry/kale chip thrown in) but WOW the food in Thailand was good. 

Street food in Thailand is safe, hygienic, delicious and very cheap so I availed myself of every opportunity. Some favorites: the fresh fruit, lod chong, sum tum and BBQ street meat. I had a fabulous experience near one of the temples where a som tum vendor took a shine to me (I had tried to entice some other tourists into trying her amazing dish) and gave me all sorts of free food.

 

Image3. The joy (?) of being a solo traveler. I was hell bent on taking advantage of this work trip and seeing a bit of Thailand. Problem? I didn’t have anyone to sightsee with as my boss was ill and the rest of the people at the meeting were honorable ministers of health etc. Solution? Strike out on my own! One thing I am amazed by is power of the internet (please read that sentence a if it were said by the people in this video …”what is internet?”).  I used TripAdvisor and other message boards to figure out the best (read: cheapest) hotel to stay at, where to change money for the best rate, how to navigate Thailand’s public transportation and which attractions were a must see. To get to the temples, for example, I had to take the skytrain to a river port and hop a local public boat bus and figure out which station to get off on. The bonus about traveling alone is that you meet all sorts of amazing people and in my experience people were kind, generous and eager to help. The best part was when I asked directions from 2 women, one Thai and one American. “I’m from Bangkok but I live in the US now- we both do,” the Thai woman explained. “Where in the US?” I asked. “Boston,” she replied. “No way! I grew up in Boston!” I exclaimed. “Well, not really Boston, we live in a small town outside of Boston called [she named the exact small town outside Boston where I grew up].” “ME TOO!!!” Seriously, what are the odds? Gotta love it. 

 

Hey Laaadies!

ImageSo one of my favorite things about New Delhi thus far is the incredible metro system.  It’s sleek, has incredible signage, the trains come around every 5 minutes and it has a very convenient smartcard system. My commute to work takes around 30 min and costs 13.6 rupees (around 23 cents). This metro system has totally spoiled me and I am dreading my return to the US and its sub par public transit.

But probably my fImageavorite thing about the New Delhi metro is the Ladies Car. Not women’s car- ladies car. Because all the women in New Delhi are ladies for some reason. Only three years old, this is a part of New Delhi’s initiative for women’s safety that feels appropriate in the wake of horrible gut-wrenching acts of violence against women that gained international attention.

So the first car of every train is marked by pink signs and reserved for the fairer sex. It’s less crowded and FAR less smelly than the rest of the metro. Image

It’s very hard, however, to refrain from shouting “hey laaaadieeees” ala Outkast every time I get on the train. But I already get enough stares for being white and having blue eyes so I don’t think I need to add “crazy psychopath” to that list. But we all know that my inner filter is shoddy at best so you never know…

But what if I’m a lady in New Delhi and have to run to catch the train and/or can’t find the ladies car? Fear not, fellow female traveler. There are provisions for you in the regular cars as well. Signs and periodic announcements remind male passengers to kindly give up their seats for “the elderly, physically disabled or women.” Because, you know, it’s all kind of the same thing, right?

This ladies only concept has proved very popular and is very much appreciated by this lady.

ImageNow to end I would like to introduce you to my favorite subway sign creature: a be-snouted, afro-sporting, skirt and clog wearing man(woman?)-bear-dog hybrid: enjoy.