Medicine and Baseball Bats

March 19, 2017

Hi everyone,

If you go to Louisville, KY, be sure to visit Museum Row on Main. At the Frazier History Museum, you can pretend to cross the continent with Lewis and Clark and meet Native American tribes, living as they did before white culture invaded. You can explore the Kentucky Science Center, and take a nine-year-old daughter with you, if you have one. At the Science Center, you can experiment with gravity, and drench yourself at the water table. At the Muhammad Ali Center, you can trace the life arc of “The Greatest,” from his youth in Louisville where he learned to fight to protect himself, through his evolution into the best boxer of all time. You can witness Ali’s name change and courageous political transformation as he risked his life and career to speak out for civil rights and protest the Vietnam War. Try finishing the day at Proof on Main, where you can dine on charcuterie and sip exceptional Kentucky bourbon, and then spend the night at the 21c Museum Hotel, which doubles as an art museum with movable plastic penguins that suddenly appear outside your room. Try using the one way mirror bathrooms, if you dare.

When we visited Louisville two years ago, Heide deposited me on Main before she took the girls to visit architectural marvels in Columbus, Indiana, leaving me to visit the famous Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. The factory is on the bucket list of anyone who ever played Little League baseball or loves someone who did. Its core feature is the factory floor where blocks of pine pass through a series of machines, and are shaped, sanded, and stained into perfect bats. Afterwards, you can stand at the end of a long, enclosed exhibit and press a button to have a “pitcher” hurl a ball towards you at 90 mph, just to get a sense of what it’s like to face an average major league pitch. I could barely see the ball. The piece de resistance is the batting cage, where you take a few swings with one of the Sluggers. I was once a decent ballplayer, so you can appreciate my despair after three decades away from the game, that I managed only one anemic tap. The magic was gone.

Museum Row on Main is a paean to American greatness (and I’m sorry, what it’s always been, what it should be, and what it can be). Muhammad Ali was no ordinary pugilist. Like any successful boxer, he possessed a balanced stance, a powerful punch, and graceful footwork. But he became the greatest because he danced in the ring like no one else, and he developed a unique strategy, the “rope a dope,” which exhausted opponents and allowed him to lodge devastating counterattacks. That made Ali great. Louisville Sluggers are great because they’re made of flawless wood and constructed to exact specifications. And of course, thousands of people can play baseball, but far fewer play professionally, and even fewer make it to the Majors, and only a tiny fraction reach the Hall of Fame.

We also recognize a pantheon of physicians who practice medicine with spectacular skill and artistry. Like boxers and ballplayers, they master the basic skills, which are necessary but insufficient for greatness. Competent physicians must learn to admit patients to the hospital, perform standard procedures, and manage office panels efficiently, but these skills are necessary for competence; they don’t bestow greatness. Similarly physicians can’t be great if they don’t collaborate with staff and colleagues, complete discharge summaries promptly, or wash their hands.

But greatness in medicine demands performance at a higher level. Master physicians make diagnoses when others fail. They ask crucial questions and hear nuance in the answers. They connect with the quiet patients, who trust them with stories that elude everyone else. They spend countless hours poring over records and exploring the literature, employing exquisite reasoning skills to connect dots that others don’t see. Despite their greatness, master physicians are humble enough to recognize what they don’t know, they read voraciously, and they ask colleagues to teach them, recognizing that getting to the answer is not about personal glory but about fulfilling their commitment to their patient’s well-being.

Last Friday, we welcomed 54 medical students to join us as new interns. Our new interns are blessed with enormous talent and each one is poised to achieve greatness in academic medicine. When June comes, we will task ourselves with helping them acquire essential skills, but we will also resolve to guide them on the path to greatness to which we should all aspire.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone, and please extend a warm welcome to our wonderful incoming Interns!

Mark

Submitted by Mark David Siegel on March 19, 2017