Thursday, 17 March 2011

SCHI again, and my behaviour of secondary deviance

Tomorrow is our SCHI exam (social context of health and illness, see an older post), and so I've spent some time reading about medical sociology. It's really interesting to get to know the different way of thinking in this field (perhaps something to blog about another time), as well as to see how medicine and science are perceived from an external point of view.

I've been reading quite a bit about "deviance", the sociological term for behaviour outside society's norms. Deviance describes any type of criminal act, but also includes generally strange/morally flawed behaviour - anything that sets you apart from "normality".
Once deviance has occurred, let's say a person's lie has been discovered, society has certain preconceptions about what the deviant person is like... in this case the "liar". A "liar" will then be treated in a particular way, for example he/she will no longer be trusted. There are many such stereotypes, even for people with red hair (like me)... ;-)

Sociologists further distinguish between two types of deviance: primary and secondary.
Primary deviance is the initial instance of deviance, i.e. lying, stealing, looking different, being ill, etc... Secondary deviance describes additional deviant acts that are a result of the first. For example, someone who lied once may eventually become a a liar, act like a liar, because he/she knows that others think of him/her as such now. Secondary deviance is to behave according to the stereotype associated with the deviant act. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Having this stuff in my head, I've noticed over the past few days that I display behaviour of secondary deviance, too!

Many have heard me whinge in the past few months about how I'm annoyed about how the students are treated around here (see previous post). On many occasions here in Cambridge, students are not taken seriously, not treated professionally, easily patronised or talked down to. According to the SCHI teachings, being a student is the primary deviance.
Now onto the secondary deviance: When I arrived here fresh from the real world, I treated the people I encountered in my new student life just as professionally as I was used to deal with people in my previous job. This week I noticed that this has changed.... I found myself acting like a stubborn teenager! I arrived late, refused to cooperate and was intentionally unprepared, so that I could be "as dumb as they want me to be"... really, why bother?
Then it dawned on me: this is definitely secondary deviance - I was treated like a child, so why act like an adult?

Of course, I put a stop to my secondary deviance at once. After all, I should try to keep up the standards.
But nevertheless, I acknowledge the sociologists for giving me this insight - thank you SCHI!!!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Einzug mit Narrhalla-Marsch!!!! (Carnival in the Rhine valley... and every week in Oxford?)

Today is "Rosenmontag", the most important day of the carnival season in the Rhine valley. Inspite of that, I had to go to work today, and even worse, I had to wear my normal clothes!! Not a single "Helau" was to be heard in the streets of Cambridge ("Helau" is the carnival-outcry of my region, it usually comes in threes) and not a single shot of Schnaps was offered to me in the streets. I pity myself!!!!! ;-)

I have been living abroad for almost ten years now, but it's the carnival week-end that brings with it the highest waves of home-sickness (so does the wine-week, which I describe here, but that's not until August). You would expect Christmas to be worse, but it's not. I should have booked a flight home!

Maybe it's because I was born on the 11th of November, which marks the beginning of the carnival season every year. It starts exactly at 11.11am (I was born at 11.51am) and lasts until Ash Wednesday (as you may have gathered, eleven is the official number of the carnival). Of course we used to celebrate the carnival every year for longer than I can remember. In my teens, I even danced in the show-ballet of a carnival club for a few years. No wonder I am so attached to it!

Every year it's strange for me to spend this week-end calm and quietly, rather than out in the streets dressed in a costume at one of the many carnival parades in my region. The only carnivalesque thing I managed to do this week-end was to have a doughnut, which represents the closest substitute available in the UK to a carnival cake (in my region, we call them "Kreppel", see blow). The crappy doughnut I managed to find did not taste good, but it felt good!

There is one more essential element of the carnival to mention here, and it's just as ridiculous as the rest of the carneval: the Narrhalla-Marsch. It's a piece of music you hear all the time in the Mainzer carnival (Mainz is one of the most important carnival towns, just on the other side of the Rhine from my hometown Wiesbaden). During the carnival shows (evenings where people dress up and watch a show with funny speeches and dances and stuff), the Narrhalla-Marsch accompanies the entrance and exit of every show act:

During my time in Oxford, when I had high-table dining rights at Somerville College, I was reminded of the Narrhalla-Marsch during every formal dinner. When the members of the Senior Common Room entered to walk up to the high table, all the students stood up until we had taken our seats in silence. With all the fellows marching in like this, I always felt it was a Narrhalla-Marsch moment. It made me laugh, and once I had thought of it, the Narrhalla-Marsch would play in my head whenever I'd enter hall during formals. Now you know why I was smiling then.

My current college does not have a high table, and even if it did I would not be allowed to sit on it... So bad doughnuts are all I have to remind me of the carnival, until I buy a ticket home next year to join in the celebrations once more!

Exit with Narrhalla-Marsch.


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Social Context of Health and Illness (SCHI)

I am going to write about our SCHI course today, a course about the "social context of health and disease"... and about interacting with patients. I've been planning to write about this for a while, but today I am also creating this entry for opportunistic reasons: I need to motivate myself to study SCHI later tonight... the exam is in two weeks!

SCHI is part of the 1st year medical course in Cambridge. It's where students learn about sociology, anthropology and some ethics of medicine. It's where we are reminded that we will deal with patients, which is easily forgotten during the seemingly endless science lectures and practicals. The SCHI course is really well organised and consists of tutorials (ok, supervisions!) and lectures in which we are given factual introductions to the topics, but also meet patients and learn about their experiences in coping with an illness.

Amongst our many science lectures, SCHI offered a welcome break in our schedule where we could remind ourselves of the altruistic reasons for studying medicine in the first place, and realise that science cannot (ok, in some cases, not yet, but certainly not always) explain everything or represent the sole basis for dealing with patients. Obviously, doctors don't deal with the patients' bodies in isolation, but with the entire human being who is real, whose life is embedded into social surroundings, a particular culture, and a society.

I was therefore quite surprised to find out that many medical scholars do not think highly of the course and question its necessity, that the course was apparently imposed onto Cambridge by the GMC (the General Medical Council), and therefore introduced rather reluctantly. (Be aware, this is gossip!)

How interesting. But how can this be?

These opinions of SCHI reminded me of an impression I've had during the first term of medschool, actually starting in the very first week. During that week, the graduates spent time in the hospital and I personally spent an afternoon in the emergency department, where I saw my first open wound and lots of blood. A colleague and I were shadowing a nurse, who seemed to be very good at her job, very experienced, but also somehow roughened up after many years of hard work. We watched her stitch up a young woman with a laceration on her hand. I was surprised by her lack of empathy and harshness towards the poor lady who would not be able to work in her job for a while and would be left with an ugly scar on her hand. Obviously, this was no case of malpractice, but it left a certain impression that kept being reinforced from this point onwards: that the idealism with which one starts medical school must wear off quite quickly.

Back in Cambridge, I then noticed that the loss of idealism is not only discouraged, but sometimes even encouraged (you've just got to imagine that the first patient a standard course medical student meets is a dead one in the dissection room...). Perhaps it is also a result of the huge amount of science taught in the first two years of med school, which somehow makes you lose sight of the more human aspects of medicine.

I guess the subject of sociology does not fit in with this initial desensitisation of the students. Maybe the course brings up topics that doctors don't like to be reminded of, after all it must be very hard to make it through a lifetime of medical practice without gaining some degree of cynicism. Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that a huge part of the first years of medical school is taught and organised by scientists, who can easily relate to the science behind medicine, but maybe not as easily to other "softer" aspects involving care, leaving them dismissive of the subject.

I have decided not to become roughened up yet (hopefully not ever), to keep enjoying the topic and not give up my altruistic intentions too soon.
But it's sad to see that so many undergraduates are drawn in by this atmosphere so dismissive of anything not strictly biomedical. You can truly watch them being molded into shape, so that they will carry on the hubris of the medical profession into the next generation.
Wow, that's getting dramatic now... Now I really have to start studying!!!!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

That's it....

Not long ago today, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned from his position as Minister of Defense.

In his speech he explained that he made the decision partly because of his doctoral thesis and partly because of his responsibility for the soldiers. He stressed that under the circumstances, he cannot devote full concentration to his duties and attention is being diverted away from the soldiers, who put their lives on the line every day. It should remain obvious though that the core of any of the given reasons for his resignation is his blatant plagiarism. It was yet another statement in which he merely used the word "mistake" with regards to how his thesis was produced, without explaining anything or acknowledging the severity of his actions*. I find this very disappointing.

What also remains is great disappointment with Angela Merkel. She accepted his resignation "with a heavy heart" and somewhat reluctantly. As a doctor of natural sciences, she of all people should have seen that systematic cheating in order to obtain an academic qualification cannot be compatible with a public office. She should have removed him from office in the first place, rather than now appear surprised or even sad about the resignation.

It's shocking how many people seem to think that committing fraud in science is only a serious offense within the world of science. This is very sad given that scientific efforts make an enormous contribution to the advance of our society. These events in Germany therefore tell us scientists that we have to explain much better what we are actually doing, rather than lock ourselves up in the lab every day.


*Ok, he does say that he will "help to answer" remaining questions regarding his thesis, but that seems bizzarre given that he as the supposed writer should be able to answer any questions on the spot.