A lot of people know the Andy Warhol quote that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. It turns out that (of course) Andy Warhol probably didn’t even say it, but that’s not really the point. It was a crazy day yesterday and quite unexpected. But first, a little backstory.
After I quit practicing medicine and was just starting with the social media scene I came across an organization called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). I noticed that a lot of the posts they had on Facebook and Twitter were really well aligned with how I was thinking and I was surprised that: 1) I’d never heard of them before (but they are based in Washington, DC) and 2) I was not aware that there was a politically active group pushing lifestyle medicine. For those not familiar with the term, lifestyle medicine is about finding health through diet and activity rather than pharmaceuticals and surgery. Or, as the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine puts it:
The Institute of Lifestyle Medicine (ILM) is at the forefront of a broad-based collaborative effort to transform the practice of medicine through lifestyle medicine. This critical transformation is motivated by research indicating that modifiable behaviors — especially physical inactivity and unhealthy eating — are major drivers of death, disease, and healthcare costs. While the medical profession is generally aware of this, there has yet to be a systematic and comprehensive effort to incorporate lifestyle medicine into standard practice. We accomplish this by providing professional education focusing on knowledge, skills, tools, and clinician self care and by creating resources for patients.
What I liked about PCRM is they are very active not only in the politics of moving this agenda forward, but also very active in doing research to prove the benefits. So I joined the PCRM and, being a guy with a bit more free time than most docs, I offered to help in any way possible.
Fast forward to early April, when I got an email from PCRM telling me that they had discovered that Hennipen County Medical Center (HCMC) is one of the few places that is using animals (sheep and rabbits) for training their Emergency Medicine residents. PCRM has an ongoing survey of medical teaching institutions in the US and has found that only 12% still use animals to teach procedures; most have moved away to human simulations like SimMan. PCRM had been in communication with the Emergency Medicine residency program and had asked them to quit using animals and, instead, use HCMC’s “Interdisciplinary Simulation Center”, which is capable of simulating all of the procedures for which they are using animals. When HCMC didn’t agree to stop using animals, PCRM filed a complaint with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a branch of the Department of Agriculture that oversees the use of animals for testing and teaching. In the complaint, PCRM pointed out: 1) HCMC’s justification for animal use is insufficient because alternatives exist, 2) the use of sheep and rabbits for Emergency Medicine training is not “unavoidable” and 3) the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation failed to properly oversee this use which violates the Animal Welfare Act. The PCRM was asking me, then, to join the complaint as a physician from Minnesota and told me that it was likely I would be interviewed by the media when the story came out.
Yesterday, the story came out. I was sitting around, minding my own business yesterday morning when I got a call from the PCRM office in Washington, DC. The story had broken and they were getting calls from some of the media outlets in the Twin Cities. Would I be available to discuss later in the day? I’ll spare you the details of the multiple phone calls and emails to coordinate, but I learned that there are some really crappy jobs out there and Dania DePas from PCRM has one. It was barely controlled chaos for a while.
First I got a call from Youssef Rddad (Re-dodd) from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Youssef is a student at the U and works in a “student reporter” role at the paper. Obviously I was not a high priority. I talked with him on the phone for about 20 minutes yesterday afternoon. He hadn’t read the complaint, didn’t really have any idea what was going on or why he should care. I spent most of the time getting him on track. I then emailed Dania from PCRM and asked her to forward as much information to Youssef as she could. Apparently he also talked to Dr. John Pippen, the director of Academic Affairs (and author of the complaint) at PCRM. The end result of that work can be seen here, in today’s Star-Tribune article. I was surprised that the finished article was as cogent as it turned out to be.
Off the phone with Youssef and I needed to find a place to sit down with KARE 11. Fortunately, the “Club Room” at my apartment building was free and the staff didn’t mind me using it spur of the moment. I donned my suit and met a cameraman/reporter from KARE 11. He set up his camera and I got mic’ed up and he sat across the table from me and asked a couple of questions. He had not read the complaint either. He wasn’t exactly sure what the issues were and didn’t have much of a plan for the “interview”. It lasted about 10–15 minutes and was pretty anticlimactic for what you’d anticipate being interviewed by TV news would be. Just as he was finished, WCCO arrived. I’m not terribly surprised that KARE 11 didn’t air it nor does it appear on their website. I think they got out what they put into it, very little.
The experience with WCCO was entirely different. Let me say, from the outset, I am impressed. Bill Hudson, a staff reporter came with a cameraman. I got a different mic on and we sat in the same places that I had with KARE 11. Mr Hudson had, however, read the complain, made some notes and highlighted some passages. In other words, he was prepared. We chatted for a few minutes while the cameraman got set up, mostly background stuff. He then asked a number of questions and pretty gently led me through it. All in all we probably spent 20–25 minutes talking to get the few seconds of TV time that occurred. You can see the spot here.
I’ve never been interviewed by TV before. Unfortunately, I have spent a little time in depositions and in court and I did a surgical residency in the late 80’s and early 90’s, so I’m accustomed to being asked to explain myself. Nonetheless, I admit that I actually watched the news yesterday, which is something I haven’t done in forever. Nothing on the 6 pm news, but I was amazed to find the story as the lead on the 10 pm broadcast on WCCO. OMG. Moreover, I was quite impressed at the balance that Mr. Hudson got on the story, managing to use the PCRM complaint, my interview, some discussion of simulation training, and HCMCs statement. I thought it was an excellent job.
So that’s it. My 15 minutes of fame on TV. Dania tells me that KMSP/FOX, who had arranged an interview yesterday, but cancelled at the last moment, may want to do something today, but I suspect the story has hit it’s peak and will slide into obscurity for now. But was fun and I’d definitely do it again.