Patients’ lived experience via comics

There are illness memoirs of many types, from essays and books to documentary films and one-person shows.  One of the sessions at the Transform Symposium yesterday focused on graphic novels and other illustrated pieces, written from the perspective of a patient, medical practitioner, or relative or friend of someone with an illness.  Comics are a powerful way to convey concepts and experiences that can be hard to explain using words alone.  The speakers showed some excerpts from a variety of comics, from the story of a parent’s cancer to a personal experience of bipolar disorder.

In the group with whom I watched that session, there was a small discussion about whether the comic format is a way to “dumb down” complicated medical information for the masses, but I would argue that deft use of graphics and text can pack a lot of emotion and meaning in a concise and powerful package.  One scene in a book they highlighted, for example, showed people having a conversation about a meal, but the word “cancer” is written over and over in the background.

One example of this sort of book is Tangles (pictured below), a graphic novel by Sarah Leavitt that tells the story of her mother’s life (and death) with Alzheimer’s disease and her own role as daughter/caregiver.  The section shared from this work during the session will stick with me.   To discover more, the website Graphic Medicine has lists of books, reviews, podcasts, and information about related conferences.


Mayo Transform Symposium

It’s time again for the Mayo Clinic’s annual Transform Symposium, which I’ve written about here a number of times.  To be more accurate, it started yesterday.


Some of the sessions today and tomorrow sound fantastic.  Check out the schedule (times are US Central) and pick a way to participate.  Mayo has set up three different real-time remote options: live streaming, an online community, and a virtual environment.  I’ll probably take advantage of the live streams, but I’ll be attending a session or two at the Mayo Clinic’s location in Second Life, as well:


I’ll post about some of my favorite speakers, but if you see something that sparks your imagination, leave a comment!

[Personal note: I’m back!  My summer was devoted to a lot of first-hand experience of the medical system, up to and including hip replacement surgery a couple weeks ago, but I’m glad to get this blog up and running again.]

Registration open for Transform 2013

Each year, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation holds a stimulating, innovative multidisciplinary conference focused on how to transform the experience and delivery of health care.  Last year I attended the sessions at Mayo Clinic’s location in Second Life and wrote about it here. I’ve watched some of the presentations repeatedly and they always provide new ideas for my brain to chew.

Registration is now open for the 2013 Transform conference, which will be held September 8-10 in Rochester, Minnesota.  There is a $200 per person registration discount until the end of May. It’s not something I can afford to attend in person, but if you can I’ll be jealous! I’m hoping that it will be streamed in Second Life again.

In the meantime, you can access archived video from the past four years of the conference.

Meeting the needs of child trafficking survivors

When a child has endured sexual trafficking, his or her problems can endure for a lifetime. Seeing this as a public health issue, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Advisory Council on Child Trafficking, and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women organized the “Symposium on Meeting the Needs of Child Trafficking Survivors” earlier in May.

Seventeen videos of presentations from the symposium are available online. I’m grateful whenever an organization shares material like this so that more of us can learn from it. The few videos I’ve watched so far are interesting and thought-provoking.

MSF Scientific Day live this Friday

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) will stream their Scientific Day conference live at no charge this Friday [watch here].  The conference takes place in London but they have also published a schedule in Eastern Standard Time.


Highlights of this year’s conference include:

  • The keynote speech by international health expert, co-founder of theGapminder Foundation and TED talks alumnus Hans Rosling on the synergy and conflict between research and advocacy. This will be followed by a panel discussion on the impact of MSF’s research.
  • Treatment in conflict and emergency settings including TB in Somalia and hepatitis E in South Sudan
  • New approaches to preventing malaria in Mali and Chad, cholera vaccination in an outbreak in Guinea, and preventing malnutrition in Niger by cash transfer and food supplementation
  • Challenges for MSF including the introduction of a medical error reporting system and parenteral artesunate for severe malaria
  • The role of social media and health looking at the effect of MDR-TB patients blogging about their experiences

Viewers can use the Twitter #MSFSci hashtag to participate during the event on Friday and follow @MSF_UK for more info. The video archive from last year’s event can be found here on Vimeo

CFP for a great conference in Germany

Check out this great-looking conference in Mainz, starring medical anthropology superstars Joao Biehl, Thamar Klein and Hansjoerg Dilger.  It’s a good indication of the field’s continued struggles to define itself, and to articulate its relationship to political engagement and activism.

Subject: CFP Situating medical anthropology: between the “ivory tower of science,” activist engagement, and ethical responsibility

*GAA Biannual Conference 2013*

*Locations: anthropology in the academy, the workplace, and the public sphere*

*2. – 5. October at Mainz University, Germany*

*Keynote: João Biehl (unconfirmed)*

Workshop conveners: Thamar Klein and Hansjoerg Dilger (Work Group Medical Anthropology)

The situated knowledge of “science” has in the last 30 years taken center stage in anthropology, with ethnographic and anthropological ways of knowing and doing research having been described as being inseparably linked to sociopolitical forces and practices. This idea went hand in hand with the development of “perspectival science” – the awareness that there is no “view from nowhere” – but that research is conditioned by the particular “cultural baggage” of the re-searcher and his/her subjectivity.

That knowledge and social life forms are inter-dependent is also a well-established fact in critical medical anthropology, which has long been concerned with the production of knowledge in settings infused by power and authority. Furthermore, as medical anthropology deals with existential questions of suffering, health and the human body, the field has a strong tradition of applied approaches and activism. Yet, despite these insights the opposition of academia toward activist-scholars persists and those anthropologists en-gaged in applied practice are often disregarded.

We welcome proposals for papers that address aspects of the relationship of activism, attempts to do “situated research,” and academic medical anthropology, including questions about the researcher’s subjectivity and the moral and ethical challenges that medical anthropologists face in positioning themselves within and beyond the field. Furthermore, we are interested in what the ethical and applied responsibilities of medical anthropologists are in shifting landscapes of health and suffering that have become increasingly marked by dynamics of exclusion/social stratification – as well as by new opportunities for the funding of “societally meaningful” research.

Abstracts should be submitted both as a long version (200 words max.) and a short version (30 words max.). These should be e-mailed (including short biographical information) directly to the workshop conveners.

*Deadline:**15. February 2013* <> <>

Liveblogging the 2012 Envision Conference

I’m sitting in a ballroom in the gorgeous Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, MI, surrounded (mostly) by nursing professionals at this conference hosted by the Oakland University School of Nursing.

The first speaker is Sharon M. Freeman Clevenger, talking about cognitive behavior therapy.  Essentially, this involves testing a patient’s beliefs and behaviors, exploring their cognitive processes through Socratic questioning, and then teaching the patient how to adjust and correct that thinking. It can also involve looking at one’s behaviors over time and considering nutritional/sleep/environmental issues, as well.  Is there an anthropological angle? Perhaps, in that anthropologists are good at sussing out the worldview, the cognition, of those we work with, and that we take a holistic view.   CBT is therapeutic and seeks to correct that worldview if it’s seen as dysfunctional, and it seems (to me) that this level of “fixing people” is outside our bailiwick..  However, this is an excellent and informative talk by a dynamic, well-educated professional.

Update: The second talk is by the Venerable Bup Chon Sunim (Brent Eastman) who is a member of the clergy staff at Muddy Water Zen temple in Royal Oak and also creative and brand director at identity, a PR firm.  His workshop is full of humor and anecdotes, as well as helpful tips about Buddhist monks (no, he does not know the Dalai Lama or Richard Gere, and rubbing his belly will not bring you luck).  His talk is about finding compassion in the workplace through mindfulness training. He guided us through a couple of different exercises and described a stress-reduction experiment with 25 nursing students where they were asked to participate in 10 minutes of meditation per day, journal twice a week, and use an online community forum. What was the result? People guessed that stress levels went down, happiness went up, and the students worked together better.   nope.  There was a 100% dropout rate from the program, even from students who said they were seeing benefits. Mindfulness takes a commitment.

Again, is there an anthropological component? Being mindful and compassionate is important in our practice, helping us acknowledge our filters and think past them (as much as we can) to see those around us. I can definitely see the value there. Continue reading

2012 Wired Health Conference, simulcast tomorrow & Tuesday

This year, the Wired Health Conference will be exploring personalized medicine, which includes the fascinating growing area of the quantified self:

The theme of the event is “Living By Numbers” — the notion that new data and analytics are enabling better healthcare delivery and research. The idea is straightforward on its face: By paying heed to our health, and taking advantage of new tools for self-monitoring, feedback, and community, we can empower our own actions and skirt the disease risks that life throws at us. But this potential is only just upon us, with the combination of new computing power, ample data storage, and having the right questions at hand. This technology is just beginning to enable the new frontier of personalized medicine: combining the insights of epidemiology with our own personal metrics to customize medical science to individuals.

You can watch the simulcast live, free.  Talks begin at 4:00pm Eastern on Monday, and run from 9:00am-5:00pm Tuesday, with an exciting roster of speakers.

Prague is very nice in May…

…and this conference looks pretty interesting, too- although “probing” might not be the best word choice:

Call for Presentations: 1st Global Conference–Probing the Boundaries
of Reproduction

Origins, Bodies, Transitions, Futures

Sunday 12th May – Tuesday 14th May 2013 Prague, Czech Republic

This conference seeks to explore the boundaries of reproduction, not
merely as physical birth but more broadly as an agent of change, of
bodily, sexual, cultural (and even viral) transitions.

Paul Farmer at The Feast

Paul Farmer’s talk at The Feast — with Arcade Fire — on the 25th anniversary of the founding of Partners in Health:

(Sorry, can’t seem to embed this one.  The audio quality improves after the whispery first minute or two.)