What Is Death?

What do Mormons believe about death, and how does this affect the way we live our lives?

by Alan Sanderson, MD

One of my patients died a couple of weeks ago from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was a wonderful man, and I really loved having him as my patient, but I was always sad about the circumstances that made our paths cross. I remember the first time I explained the diagnosis to him, and his good-natured acceptance on that day and throughout his disease course was inspiring to me. From the very beginning he refused any kind of intervention aside from pain management, and he died a little over 2 years from the onset of his first symptom. At every clinic visit he made me laugh, and I will always remember the way he smiled in the face of death.

How could he smile in the face of death? Because he understood that death is not the end of life.

We have discussed the topic of death in several previous posts, but always in the context of some other topic. I want to hit it head on this time. What do Mormons believe about death, and how does this affect the way we live our lives? Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part VI: Living the Dream

Adventures and lessons from my first years in practice

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This article is the sixth of a six-part series, written in the hope that it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you:

  1. First Decisions: Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

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During medical school orientation one of the speakers gave us all a piece of paper and told us to draw a picture of ourselves in the future as a practicing doctor. This is what I drew. When I showed it to my wife recently she laughed out loud. “The misshapen head! The baldness! It all speaks of being terribly misused, for years,” she said. (It also speaks of my primitive drawing skills; necks are optional.) It is true that a lot of my hair fell out during my medical training, but I suspect that most of it would have fallen out anyway, and thankfully my head did not become deformed. But residency does take its toll on your life in the neglect of your personal relationships, hobbies, health habits, and everything else which is not directly related to your work. This last part of the series will discuss the process of trying to put your life back together after the trial is over. Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part V: Keep Your Nose Above Water

Stories and memories from the dark days of internship and residency

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This article is the fifth of a six-part series, written in the hope that it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you:

  1. First Decisions:  Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

I will post one section each week for six weeks. Sign up for email updates here or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.

My mother taught me to swim when I was about three or four years old at the city pool. She would stay near the edge of the pool, and I would dog paddle out a few feet and then return to the safety of the edge. One day my mom pushed away from the edge, and I followed her out into the pool thinking that she would return to the edge. But she didn’t turn around. She just kept swimming farther and farther into the pool, and I started to panic as I realized that I couldn’t go back to the edge by myself, but I couldn’t keep up with her. I called out for her to help, and I paddled along as quickly as I could. She led me through the middle of the pool and to the opposite side, and I swam the whole way. A lot of pool water ended up in my nose, and in my stomach, but I made it across the pool!

I remember feeling angry with my mom at first for scaring me like that, but this experience became an important milestone in my becoming an independent swimmer. It is also a pretty good analogy for what residency is like. Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part IV: Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis

Thoughts and memories about medical school clinical rotations, specialty choice, and applying to residency

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This article is the fourth of a six-part series, written in the hope that it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you:

  1. First Decisions:  Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

I will post one section each week for six weeks. Sign up for email updates here or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.

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I was so excited to wear my first white coat!

My life changed abruptly and irreversibly in July of my third year, when I started my first clinical rotation in the hospital. This gave me my first opportunity to see how hospital teams function, and what role doctors play on that team. I remember the “A-Ha!” moment when I first comprehended the difference between what doctors do and what nurses do. (Recall my breathtaking ignorance described in Part I of this series.)

Every month or two for the next two years I rotated through a different type of practice. I started with internal medicine, then surgery, then family medicine, psychiatry, neurology, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, radiology, addiction medicine, emergency medicine, etc. Every month (and sometimes every day) I had a new team of doctors and residents to work with in an entirely different hospital or clinic setting. As soon as I got my bearings and felt like I knew what I was doing, it was time to move on to something else. In addition to these frequent changes of venue, I also found that I was no longer in charge of my own schedule like I had been for many years. Weekend and overnight work assignments were frequent. Even when things are going well this sort of instability is stressful. Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part III: The Academic Eating Contest

Thoughts and memories about the first two years of medical school

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This article is the third of a six-part series, written in the hope that it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you:

  1. First Decisions:  Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

I will post one section each week for six weeks. Sign up for email updates here or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.

2004-005

The main lecture hall early in my first year.

The first few weeks of medical school were the most remarkable time in all of my 26 years of formal education. There were about 200 students in my entering class, from diverse backgrounds, religions, and races, and a general feeling of openness and goodwill prevailed. I turned over a new leaf by going out of my way to talk to people and make new friends, and I felt a strong sense of camaraderie with all of my classmates. We had all worked hard to get there and we were all in this together. Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part II: Apply Yourself

Thoughts and memories about undergraduate studies and applying to medical school

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This article is the second of a six-part series, written in the hope that it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you:

  1. First Decisions:  Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

I will post one section each week for six weeks. Sign up for email updates here or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts.

Getting accepted to medical school was a bit more complicated than enrolling at the university for undergraduate studies, where apparently the only requirement was that I be a state resident with a pulse. The medical school application required prerequisite courses, standardized testing, multiple letters of recommendation, application fees, and traveling for interviews.

The first obstacle was the undergraduate course work, which actually I didn’t think was so hard. Dealing with all of the obnoxious pre-med students was the real challenge, as they filled up the seats in the enormously large amphitheater classes and only seemed to care about what topics were going to be on the exam. These students were intimidating, competitive, and laser-focused on the goal of getting into medical school. I also detected a certain disdain for them among my professors and among the other students. My reaction was to become a “closet pre-med,” mostly keeping my career aspirations to myself.

Continue reading

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It Becomes You, Part I: First Decisions

Thoughts about becoming a doctor

by Alan Sanderson, MD

When I set out on my career path many years ago I had very little comprehension of what I was actually doing. I did not have a step-by-step guide or a mentor to help me avoid the pitfalls. With this in mind, I offer some observations and thoughts from my own experience of surviving the “doctor factory” of medical education. This is not meant to be a comprehensive treatise, but hopefully it will be useful to those who are considering or preparing for a career in medicine, and at least entertaining and uplifting for the rest of you.

This article is the first of a six-part series:

  1. First Decisions:  Deciding to become a doctor
  2. Apply Yourself: Undergraduate studies
  3. The Academic Eating Contest: Medical school preclinical years
  4. Academic Vertigo and the Identity Crisis: Clinical rotations and specialty choice
  5. Keep Your Nose Above Water: Surviving residency
  6. Living the Dream: The transition from training to practice

I will post one part each week for the next six weeks. Sign up for email updates here or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to get notified of new posts. Continue reading

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John M. Stang Memorial Scholarship Fund

I am happy to report that my recent post about Dr. Stang has generated interest in creating a memorial scholarship in his name. This effort is spearheaded by Dr. Meredith Broderick from the class of 2003. We are hoping to raise over $50,000 for the fund. I have personally pledged $1,000, and am willing to pledge more in the future. If you are interested in making a pledge, please use the form below.
Continue reading

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Memories of a Mentor

The cardiologist with a big heart, John M. Stang, MD

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Lately I have been thinking about John Stang, MD, one of my teachers and mentors during medical school. I am proud to call him my friend, although I do so with mixed emotions.

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John M. Stang, MD

Dr. Stang made quite a first impression. I was sitting through an exceptionally boring day of medical school orientation, but his presentation was different from all of the others. His entrance into the lecture hall was accompanied by rock music (Jimi Hendrix, if I recall correctly) and flashing lights. He expressed his regret that he couldn’t set up a fog machine, or play the music himself. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this guy for real?” Continue reading

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A Disease With Perks

… but you have to look for them.

by Alan Sanderson, MD

I have been thinking about cancer lately, for two reasons. The first was the story I wrote about my aunt Steffanie. The second reason is a blog I recently came across which is written by one of my neighbors, Christie Perkins. She has stage IV breast cancer, and has been really fearless in writing about her experience. Her blog is called “How Perky Works,” and it is a case study in unsinkable optimism. Spend an afternoon with her blog; I promise you won’t regret it!

Cancer lends itself to all kinds of lessons, and the pages of Christie’s blog are full of them. She teaches about how to accept and acknowledge the sadness of a serious illness and still choose happiness. Again and again and again she describes a setback in her illness, and how it tears at her emotions, but she works through it and comes out ahead, with a smile from ear to ear. And you can’t help but smile with her.

So what are the perks of having cancer? Read her blog to find out! I will point you to one example, which is a list of the Top 10 Perks of Wearing a Baby Blue Mask. (She had to wear a surgical mask for a few weeks because her immune system was really suppressed from the chemotherapy.)

Christie is a teacher and a mentor, showing us by example how to rely on God’s grace. Sometimes extreme examples clarify the boundaries of a problem, and cancer has a way of taking us to extremes. As I have said before, disease can be one of God’s most powerful refining tools. Continue reading

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