How generations can learn a lot from each other

In our office, sometimes our secretaries listen to background music. A few days ago, while walking through the office, I heard an iconic song, written and performed by a songwriting legend. Even someone like me, who was never deep into the music scene, automatically recognized the song. I asked our receptionist, a young lady in her 20s, if she knew the song that was playing. She didn’t. I identified the song for her and asked if she knew it. She didn’t. I named the singer and asked if she knew him. She didn’t. In order to maintain a high level of suspense, I will unmask the song and the artist for readers at the conclusion of this post.

And how does any of this contribute to a medical commentary blog? I’ll do my best. The still-unnamed song would be immediately recognized by anyone in my (ancient) generation. And yet, it was simply off the radar screen of a typical millennial. I don’t think that this observation is restricted to the arts. I think it applies to many occupations and professions, including my own.

A gastroenterologist who has just launched into practice enters a career that will be a different specialty than the one that I currently practice. While the diseases will largely be the same, the diagnostic tests and treatments will emerge from a different universe. Colonoscopies – a bedrock of gastroenterology – may even become obsolete in my own career. I suspect that there will be little in common with respect to the knowledge base and therapeutic arsenal between new GI specialists and ‘seasoned’ ones like me. Similar to my young secretary, I may not even be aware of cutting edge treatments that are now being developed and utilized. Conversely, many of these new GI pros might not recognize stuff that I do as part of their own specialty.

Sure, I do my best to remain current in my field, but increasingly my medical journals are reporting on fancy endoscopic techniques or futuristic treatments that will never be part of my practice. The gastroenterologists of tomorrow will participate in personalized medical care where diagnoses that are elusive today will be made with a skin swab or a saliva sample. Treatments will be tailored to an individual patient’s genetic make-up. Doesn’t it seem rather clumsy that we give patients of all sizes, shapes, and genders the same doses of medicines?

I don’t feel anachronistic and believe in my training and skill. While I anticipate great progress in medicine in the years to come, we must recognize that not everything new is better or will endure. Physicians who have been around have seen many “medical breakthroughs” cast aside when initial optimism fades over time.

Generations can learn a lot from each other. Millennials can teach us about technology. And, we can remind them of the more wholesome era that we grew up in, when we enjoyed letters in longhand, actual human to human conversations, reading real books, and hearing our favorite songs on the radio, including classics like James Taylor’s folk-rock standard, Fire and Rain.

Michael Kirsch is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower.

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