2016 Whitehead Lecture: Advice, Life Stories and the Journey with Parkinson’s

“In giving advice I advise you, be short.” Horace

“The journey is what brings us happiness not the destination.” Dan Millman

Introduction: Last month, I presented the Whitehead Lecture to the UNC School of Medicine (SOM).  Here is what that means: “The annual Whitehead Lecture serves as an unofficial convocation for the School of Medicine. It is named in honor of Dr. Richard Whitehead, dean of the School of Medicine from 1890 to 1905. The Whitehead Lecturer is chosen by the SOM medical student governing body (Whitehead Medical Society). The selection is based on qualities of leadership, dedication, and devotion to medicine and teaching. Being elected to deliver the Whitehead Lecture is among the highest honors for faculty members at the School of Medicine.” (excerpted from https://www.med.unc.edu/md/events-awards/academic-calendars-events/whitehead-lecture).

In my 30-something year academic career at UNC-CH this was the biggest honor I’ve  received from the School of Medicine.  Here is a link to the news article written about my ~15-min lecture and the other teaching awards given to faculty, residents/fellows, and medical students (click here).

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Themes of Advice:  Below is a summary of the advice I gave to UNC-CH medical students to help them through their medical school journey (realizing I’m not a physician but a medical educator/biomedical researcher).  The lecture was divided up into 4 chapters: Chapter 1: Conflict of Interest Statement (this was done to start lightheartedly and to ‘try’ to be funny); Chapter 2: Core Values Learned from Growing up an “Air Force Brat” (childhood memories of my dad, Col. Church)Chapter 3: Life Stories and Advice Using Words that Begin with “H” (I  made a word-cloud with numerous words/phrases, e.g., Hope, Happy, Hospital, and Healthy Habits Harbor Happiness); and Chapter 4: Conclusions.

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The advice/stories were accompanied by numerous pictures and my own personal-life-events to emphasize my side of my own advice.  Advice I tried to convey to the medical students regarding my Parkinson’s disease was as follows: (a) acceptance and adaptation while still living positively; (b) adversity is rarely planned but you must be proactive as it accompanies life; and (c) a wide range of illness (from good to bad) accompanies most disorders; thus, it matters how you approach and treat each individual person (patient) with every disorder.

“My definition of success: When your core values and self-concept are in harmony with your daily actions and behaviors.” John Spence

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way.” Satchel Paige

Chapter 1: Conflict of Interest Statement:

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Chapter 2: Core Values Learned from Growing up as an “Air Force Brat:

slide1Core Value of Integrity:
A cornerstone of my dad’s influence on me was integrity, to always be honest.
Everything I did growing up needed teamwork and integrity added strength to each team.
•Your integrity leads you forward.
“Be as you wish to seem.” Socrates

Core Value of Service:
The USAF interpretation of service is a commitment to serve your country before self.
My commitment to service and to helping others is through education and biomedical research.
•Your own service enriches your life.
“To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” Albert Schweitzer

Core Value of Excellence:
The core value of excellence revolves around doing the task proudly and right.
My dad instilled in me the notion to work hard, centered on excellence because the task mattered no matter the importance of the task.
Through this same excellence, your life matters.
“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” John W. Gardner

Chapter 3: Life Stories and Advice Using Words that Begin with “H”:

slide08Help/Helpful/Helped:
There will be times when classmates, team members, and patients ask you for help/advice; always try to be helpful.
You may need to be helped on some topic-issue; that is totally okay, you are not expected to do it all by yourself.
“If
you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” Gautama Buddha

Colleagues Who Have Helped Me To Become A Better Educator:
A very important part of my career is centered around medical education.  I am fortunate to have colleagues who are gifted teachers, who serve as wonderful role models, and who have given me sound advice/feedback on new teaching strategies and educational ideas.
This group includes Dr. Alice Ma, Dr. Tom Belhorn, SOM Teaching Champions (Dr. Kurt Gilliland, Dr. Ed Kernick, Dr. Gwen Sancar, Dr. Arrel Toews, Dr. Marianne Meeker, Dr. Sarah Street and this group included me), Dr. Joe Costello, Johanna Foster and Katie Smith.
Since joining the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as an Assistant Professor (1987), I have had the privilege of teaching ~6,000 students (26 years of medical students x ~170 students/year = 4,420; 23 years of graduate students x ~20 students/year = 460; and 20 years of ~75 undergraduates/year = 1,500).

Find Your Holy Grail in Higher Education:
Challenge yourself, be goal-directed and discover where your passion resides (it could be patient care, research, education, service, policy, outreach, etc.).
Stay engaged in pursuit of your hallmark in higher education, which becomes your very own Holy Grail.
If you’re not happy, keep searching.
“What is known as success assumes nearly as many aliases as there are those who seek it. Like the Holy Grail, it seldom appears to those who don’t pursue it.” Stephen Birmingham

My Holy Grail in Higher Education (Hemostasis-Thrombosis Research):
34 years ago, 1982, I began my postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Roger Lundblad. Since 1986, as a basic biomedical researcher in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine [Research Assistant Professor (1985-1986), Assistant Professor (1987-1994), Associate Professor (with tenure, 1994-1999), and Professor (with tenure, 1999-present)] , I have had a wonderful and enriching academic research career that has helped train over 100 scientists: 17 graduate students; 12 postdoctoral fellows; 17 medical students; and 65 undergraduates.
My research (Holy Grail) is centered on:
Biological Chemistry of Coagulation Proteases and their Serine Protease Inhibitors (Serpins);
-Aging
and Senescence-linked to the Pathophysiology of Venous
Thrombosis;
-Funding through NIH (NHLBI, NIA, and NINDS), American Heart Association, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Shown below left is the antithrombin/thrombin/heparin complex and below right, a 30-year history of some of the former/current lab personnel (1987, 2003, and 2016).

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Handle Adversity in Your Journey:
We have expectations of what life should be like and what it should offer us; instead, accept what life gives you at the moment.
When life presents an obstacle, do your best to
handle adversity in your journey.
Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” Bernice Johnson Reagon

slide17Handling Adversity in My Journey:
Parkinson’s is a slowly progressing neurodegenerative disorder from the loss of dopamine-producing cells.
Dealing with an incurable disease like Parkinson’s is different than living with a terminal illness; you must accept that it’s part of your life for years to come.
Strive to live-forward, and always remember that we’re still in the driver’s seat of our world. Live decisively even as we accept the problems from Parkinson’s.” Frank C. Church

slide19Home Is Where The Heart Is:
1.Home is where the heart is. You love the place best which you call your home. That is where your heart lives.
2.Home is where the heart is. Wherever you feel most at home is where you feel you belong. That is where your heart is.
3.Your home may change many times over the coming years. Let your heart tell you where your home is.

Home Is Where My Heart Is (or Has Been for the Past 50 Years):
On a tennis court and on a golf course;
In a research laboratory and in a classroom teaching;
With family/loved ones.
“Let your heart tell you where your home is.”  Frank C. Church

home

Health (Heal, Healed, Healer):
Your foundation of knowledge is expanding to allow you to make decisions related to someone’s health.
You’ll likely encounter a spectrum of illness in your patients; health is like a rheostat that ranges from good to bad, mild to severe. Remember, you are treating a person with a disorder/illness.
“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” William Osler

Health (Heal, Healed, Healer) From My Perspective With Parkinson’s:
A Google search for “Parkinson’s disease: Images” shows these drawings from the 1880’s are still very prevalent (below left panel).
Yes, they accurately show the Cardinal signs of Parkinson’s: tremor, rigidity from muscle stiffness, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), postural instability, and facial masking.
However, these images suggest to many that all people-with-Parkinson’s must look and act like this.
An emerging picture of Parkinson’s today is (hopefully, below right panel) a person embracing an appropriate lifestyle with a treatment plan to manage and live with their symptoms.
My daily mantra: “Never give up; I refuse to surrender to Parkinson’s.” Frank C. Church

health

Chapter 4: Conclusions:
I am most pleased to welcome all of the new medical students (MS-1’s) to medical school and to everyone else, we’re glad you’re here.
The “USAF core values” could be of some use in your professional career and in your personal life.
Remember the “words that begin with the letter H”; they could be both supportive and comforting in your years of training.
We have one final “H word” to get through but I need YOUR voices…

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“I believe that curiosity, wonder and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers; that restlessness and discontent are vital things; and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways that less intense emotions can never do.” Kay Redfield Jamison

Cover photo credit: Frank Church

Home Is Where The Heart Is: (1) and (2) partly adapted from Anila Syed, Wordophile.

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