Education in Retirement

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Leonardo da Vinci


Friday morning vascular department conferences are very special for me.  For several reasons.

First of all it’s the time.  Conference starts at 7am.  I usually get up at 5am, get ready, read emails and news.  Car drive is lonely and quiet. No comparison to LA traffic.  I make a point not to be late and not to give a reason for  younger people to give me the looks. And try not to miss conferences, unless I am out-of-town. For me it is a matter of commitment and discipline.

I am really impressed, how well are they prepared and managed. Topics are carefully selected.  Most of the time speakers are knowledgable and well prepared and I know they present up to date information. Some are more entertaining than others, but of course these are teachers not performers.

But I am the most impressed by the level and civility of discussion afterwards.  I see a level of communication and presenting of the experience of discussants  rarely seen in my past encounters. That’s  uplifting.

Last Friday conference was originally designed to report on newest usage of vascular ultrasound.  I had already prepared question about 3D technology and its application in the work up before surgery without preop angiograms.

Then subject was changed and the presenter was talking about using statistics, designing and interpreting randomized clinical trials and their use in designing evidence based standards of care.  Again a tantalizing subject.  And well presented.  So I will wait with my question til the next time.

Then one of discussant, a very experienced surgeon noticed, that regardless of the results of clinical studies we always will apply their results with personal bias.  This is true and was not stressed enough.

There is a big difference between surgical and medical clinical trials.  Surgical clinical trials assume, that all surgeons participating in given study have the same experience and manual skills.  We know, that’s not always the case.  When we do a clinical trial on specific medication, let’s say, strength and the quality of the pill is standardized and for all purposes the same.  In surgical studies this factor of providing the care is delegated to a surgeon.  Not all surgeons deliver the same level of care.  I know that.  I spent close to 50 years in the operating room.  The results of carotid endarterectomy done by surgeon A may not be the same as the procedure done by surgeon B.  It’s enough to ask OR and ICU crew.  For some surgeons even years of practice are not enough. When I myself, as a patient ask surgeon what is his mortality and morbidity on planned surgical procedure and he gives me numbers taken from the national study, it’s not enough and doesn’t mean much.  I would like to know his mortality and his morbidity.  Big study numbers are frankly not that relevant, particularly for surgeons in the beginnings of their careers. The major criticism of VA coronary artery bypass study was, that mortality and morbidity in VA hospitals at that time was much higher, tha the same values in community and major center academic hospitals.

Different results for different surgeons can explain different confidence levels in recommending particular surgical procedure for their patients.  And that can be one of factors creating personal bias.

The difference between results of national studies and one’s personal results is comparable to the difference between classical physics and quantum physics. One refers to the particular results, the other to the probability of results.  Concepts may be  close, but not the same.

But the best part of the conference is at the end.  When everyone is rushing to the OR, their offices or to make rounds and I am still sitting and smiling.  I don’t have to rush to do it any more. I can have my cup of coffee and go to do some reading and writing. And later on go to the gym.

Life simple pleasures.


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