Richard M. Plotzker, MD


March 28, 2016

Ready for Challenges and a Transformation

Day-to-day practice can produce a feeling of isolation, especially if you are the only one of your specialty on site, which is the case for me now as a hospital staff endocrinologist. And although there is a certain pageantry to the hospital, with people of different skills and temperaments in circulation, there remains value in a periodic gathering of expertise and peer experience. I get my fill of that at the national meeting of the Endocrine Society, which convenes in Boston the first week of April this year.

Richard M. Plotzker, MD

Were it not for this hiatus in the flow of patients and my redirection to this orgy of endocrine education, I may very well have never learned a new city transit system, or stayed at a luxury hotel, because the meeting's housing bureau screens out the Red Roof Inns and Motel 6s—my more customary vacation habitats.

Although the venue offers certain pleasures, the meeting itself remains a professional activity. I derive most of my mandatory continuing medical education credit for licensing, and therefore my livelihood, from my days there. Not all of the meeting activities generate credit, most notably the posters and oral presentations of research results—yet those are the parts of the conference that are not really reproducible by other means.

And I have peers with common interests and deficiencies...lots of them. After attending several lectures and symposia on the subject, for example, I still do not regard myself as qualified to treat a transgender patient, or to figure out why a handful of people who come to the office have intractable sweating. Symposia on such topics are always filled to capacity each year with others who similarly wish that their knowledge of these conditions matched that of the presenters.

I was eventually able to tell the difference between a knockout mouse and a knocked-up mouse.

When I first started attending these conventions, I felt like I needed headphones that enabled simultaneous translation. I did not understand complementary DNA, with its bands on the gels that invariably made it to the big screen of the auditorium. The people who analyzed them professionally saw much of the rest of the world in black and white, too. But with sufficient repetition of subjects, I was eventually able to tell the difference between a knockout mouse and a knocked-up mouse—both having breeding as an overlapping feature.

Presenters still talk a little too fast for me to know which genes have been bred out. But for the past decade or two, I've been able to understand the science and how it applies to the work I do, then import that back to hospital teaching of residents, who sometimes get too removed from the rational basis for the care they are expected to provide.

To make things a little better for those of us immersed in the clinical side of endocrinology, usually toward the end of the conference, the "big professor" who actually does understand the science will remark on one of those exotic research posters or oral presentations that he or she encountered and how it enhances the work being presented in a clinical setting. I always return a little more eager to delve into the chemistry or physiology, or even genetics, of the things I encounter in the exam room.

To the Society's credit, they have established themes and annual initiatives associated with the conference as well. A few years ago, they focused on health disparities, for example, which remain very real. Ethnic and age disparities are well known among patients with diabetes, but not so much with various thyroid disorders or osteoporosis—yet they exist there, too, and awareness of them changes one's perspective in the exam room. That initiative and subsequent themes have given me a perspective and focus that last long after I return home.

So, with airline and hotel reservations made, and materials to be acquired at the registration desk, there is a certain anticipation to being transformed professionally, at least for a few days in a previously unvisited town.


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