Things can happen by chance.
As a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan, working on the wards while on the urology service, I heard my name announced or the loudspeaker.
I had been paged, not something a lowly medical student would expect. Was it bad news? Answering on the nearest phone, I was speaking with none other than Doctor Reed Nesbit, chairman of the urology department. This man was a renowned practitioner, teacher, and researcher who had designed the instrument currently used for the surgical treatment of an enlarged prostate gland. It was the widely known as the Nesbit resectoscope.
Having your name attached, usually by somebody else, to a commonly used instrument brought with it a certain degree of deserved and ethically earned fame in the medical field, both then and now. Formal advertising along with aggressive self -promotion, common today, was considered unethical in the 1950s. This practice was for the future. Today paid advertising for doctors is the “800-pound gorilla” in the room. Not everybody does it, but a lot do. So what? With the advent of social media and online blasts, just about everybody can end up on public display.
Once on the phone, Doctor Nesbit asked me to come to his office when it was convenient. To me, convenient translated to now. When I arrived at his office, the chairman quizzed me about a urinalysis I had done for a patient recently admitted to the hospital on his service. In the 50s routine admitting “labs” including hemoglobin, white cell count and differential, and urinalysis was done on the ward by medical students as part of a patient’s admission work up.
When I said I did remember the case, the chairman asked me to tell him more about the unusual cells I had described in the patient’s urine. I told him the cells I saw were like none I had seen before. They had a unique color and shape and there were lots of them. He then told me the man had subsequently been diagnosed with bladder cancer. This meant if the findings I had reported could be replicated, a new rapid method for earlier diagnosis of this cancer might be available. This condition, usually discovered later in the course of the disease, could possibly be treated more effectively if found earlier. He explained that sometimes things were discovered this way. I was excited to hear this news.
When Doctor Nesbit contacted me a few weeks later, he told me he was not able to confirm these findings with other patients. He again thanked me for my effort. I chalked up an unforgettable experience for a young medical student and resigned to the fact that my name wouldn’t be attached to a new method for a diagnosis of bladder cancer. This brief contact with the department chairman was both exciting and inspirational for medical student like me. It was an example of the mentor based bedside teaching method of Sir William Osler, a man who I would learn more about later.
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