An ode to doctors

Sometimes they nag us. Sometimes they hurt us. Sometimes, despite their best efforts, they can’t fix what ails us.

It’s the fashionable thing nowadays to bash doctors, but today, on National Doctors’ Day, it seems an appropriate occasion to recognize them for their skills, their dedication and their importance to their communities.

You didn’t know there’s a day set aside just for doctors? The day was first observed in as a local celebration in Georgia in 1933 and became a national day in 1990.

In their own words, several doctors tell us why they chose their profession and why it’s rewarding.

Here’s the story of a cardiovascular internist who has been a doctor for 30 years. Here’s a young intern who has chosen to train in emergency medicine in Australia. And here’s a wonderful collection of original stories and poems submitted last year for the Texas Academy of Internal Medicine’s annual student creative writing contest.

One of my favorites is from a Minnesota doctor. His beautiful and thoughtful essay, "Northwoods Elegy," was originally published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

From the other side of the stethoscope, a mother describes how the right pediatrician helped make an enormous difference in her daughter’s life. A young patient writes about the doctor who is her hero.

When their son needed help, this Michigan family was grateful for the care of a neuro-ophthalmologist. A seriously ill teacher found many reasons to be thankful for the doctors who saved her life.

Do you have a story of your own you’d like to share? Leave it in the comment section below, or send an e-mail to healthbeat@wctrib.com.

Divided opinions on medical marijuana

West Central Tribune readers are weighing in on coverage of a medical marijuana bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature. Judging from the responses, sentiments are similar to public opinion in the rest of the U.S.: Most people favor making the drug legal for medical use.

For anyone who’s interested in reading the entire bill, the House version can be found here and the Senate version here.

This issue has been on legislators’ radar screens for the past few years. This year it seems to be gaining considerable traction, probably due to a combination of public support and to lobbying efforts by groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project. Clearly there’s a lot of muscle behind this effort; tax statements indicate the MPP is at least a $4 million organization.

It’s also pretty hard to argue with firsthand stories from patients, such as this advertising video that was making the rounds last year.

Of particular note: The Obama administration has said it won’t aggressively enforce federal drug violations for medical marijuana use in states where such use is legal. This policy shift may be making medical marijuana laws more palatable – and possibly easier to pass – in states where medical marijuana proposals are under consideration.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, the scientific basis for using marijuana as medicine is not especially strong.

For a closer look at the medical application of marijuana, here’s a 2007 report prepared by the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs. While it doesn’t take a stand one way or the other on legalization, it notes that there’s a shortage of sound data on the medical safety and effectiveness of marijuana, and calls for more research.

Perhaps the most in-depth study was conducted by the Institute of Medicine in the late 1990s. According to the authors,

The accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly for symptoms such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation… The effects of cannabinoids on the symptoms studied are generally modest, and in most cases there are more effective medications. However, people vary in their responses to medications, and there will likely always be a subpopulation of patients who do not respond well to other medications.

The IOM’s recommendation was similar to that of the AMA: further study to determine clinical effectiveness and safety.