Lisa Sanders, a special doctor

The iMed Conference® 7.0 will surprise us once more with its probably most acclaimed competition – the Boehringer Clinical Mind Competition. The participants will solve several questions on a clinical case, provided by the amazing Dr. Lisa Sanders, who will host this competition once again.

The winners of this contest will be awarded with a two-weeks medical volunteer internship in Africa, at São Tomé e Príncipe. More than a competition, this will be a fantastic opportunity to listen to the thrilling medical stories told by the former technical adviser of the TV series House MD.


Born on the 24th of July 1956 in the USA, Dr. Lisa Sanders is a board-certified internist at Yale-New Haven Hospital and teacher at Yale School of Medicine. Prior to her medical education she majored in English at the College of William & Mary. Dr. Sanders is the author of the popular New York Times Magazine Diagnosis column – the inspiration behind the TV series House, M.D.. Furthermore, she is also the author of the featured title Think Like a Doctor, in the New York Times health blog; The Well; and also the best-selling book Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis. In this book, Dr. Lisa Sanders is able to translate the intricacies of medical science and technology into stories the reader can understand and enjoy. In the modern setting of clinical practice we are surrounded by complementary diagnosis exams and lab works. All of these are very useful but without a skillful clinical reasoning we can be easily mislead.

Dr. Lisa Sanders’ session will be hosting the Boehringer Clinical Mind Competition, for the second year in a row. She will again present a session in which she will talk about clinical thinking, taking as an example her experience as an Internal Medicine clinician. This subject is of the utmost importance to every medical student who looks forward to pursuing a career in clinical medicine.

Last year, the FRONTAL team had the priviledge of interviewing this phenomenal doctor and ask her a few questions about her work and her views on medicine.

299f3ecb-bc60-4323-a533-f7f706fce210_w0FRONTAL (F): First of all, what do you think about the Conference organised by undergraduate students?

Lisa Sanders (LS): I think it’s amazing. What a fantastic conference has been put on. I love how well organised it is, how well thought it was, everything has run perfectly, except for the audio this morning. [laughs] But those are just tiny things. It’s been perfect, I’m so impressed by how well put together this conference was. I’m just widely impressed by your medical students and by your facilities, for your medical school for supporting students who do this. It’s extraordinary.

F: Do you think that the role of doctors as detectives is being less important because of complementary exams? Or do you think it is just a new weapon to help us being better detectives?

LS: You mean all the technology? The MRIs, PET Scans? These are useful tools to assist you in finding out the answer, to confirm what you think is going on. I think that, at least in the United States we’ve had this long period, maybe decades, of infatuation of technology, where we thought the technology would give us the answer. That we wouldn’t have to think, we would see. It turns out that is not like that. Thinking is the answer is the essence of making the diagnosis. Did you ever see the show Star Trek? They had something like a tricorder that you could wave over somebody and it would immediately tell you what’s wrong with the patient? Someday we’ll have that. But that day is far away and until then what we have is our little tiny brains to figure it out. To figure out what’s going on inside the body. Tools will help us, technology will help us but it still can’t do the work for us.

F: And, how do you feel as being a doctor and having best-selling books? More like a writer and a story teller?Or more like a clinical history teller?

LS: [laughs] I’m doctor. I write as a doctor. Doctors are story tellers, writers are story tellers. It’s the same activity just done in a different way. I love taking care of patients. That’s why I went to Medical School, that’s why I did my residency and I still teach. I like writing also. I love writing but first I’m a doctor, second I’m a writer.

F: And how do you feel that sometimes doctors have problems to be understood by the general public? As using a lot of jargon and have some difficulties in communicating? How is your personal experience on that field? What do you think doctors could do to be more understandable to the general public?

LS: I don’t understand why communication isn’t a skill that is valuable as suturing or listening to a heart. It’s fundamental, it’s essential. If you can’t talk to people you can’t elicit information. Without this information how can make a diagnosis? Without a diagnosis how can you treat anyone for anything? So, it has to be taught and people have to view it as being important. You wouldn’t let somebody who was unable to operate on people go into surgery. It’s important, it’s essential, it’s really fundamental and I think it has to be taught. Some people know it. Some people are just intuitively and easily make themselves understood. But not everyone.

F: Last question. It’s something that everyone who watched Doctor House wants to know is why the final diagnosis is never Lupus?

LS: It is Lupus, at least once. That’s all I’ll say. He says it’s never Lupus because if you think about the diseases that can present any number of ways, that can affect any part of your body it’s really a very small list. You have syphilis, there’s Whipple’s disease. There are a few diseases that can appear everywhere but the most common is lupus.

F: Do you have any message for us, medical students?

LS: I think that the one thing I’m very grateful to House for is that he made it completely public knowledge that medicine is a sea of uncertainty. And it is not a terrifying thing, it’s a little scary, but it’s not something to shy away from, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad doctor. It means that medicine is hard. And I think that a great thing about House is that he was willing to wave into this ocean of uncertainty. He was absolutely confident that he would eventually findcout the answer. That’s the right attitude that doctors must have. You have to acknowledge and embrace the fact that this is a very uncertain science that we deal in. And you can’t be afraid of that, you can’t run away from that. You have to embrace it and then figure it out.

Interviewer: Cátia Loureiro

Redactor: Carolina Castro

Image and Photography: José Pedro Mendes


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