By Dr. Guy McKhann
People often assume that coming from a family of doctors, I chose medicine as a natural career path. But it was not that easy.
My great-grandfather was an Ohio family doctor, my grandfather was an academic pediatrician and my father is an academic neurologist. Nevertheless, no children in my generation were bitten by the doctor bug. After growing up on the water, I planned on being a marine biologist, and it was only after I realized that there are at least 100 plankton geneticists for every Jacques Cousteau that I switched my interests into human neuroscience research and eventually medicine.
In medicine, I always knew I wanted to work on the brain. Some of this may have been passed on from my father, but much of it came from an appreciation of how much we do not know about brain function. As the scientific community learns more about the brain, medicine is able to advance how we treat neurological diseases.
No matter how much I know or learn, there is always a new frontier being advanced and novel treatments being applied. This combination makes neurosurgery an incredibly exciting and dynamic field.
As demonstrated on ABC’s “NY Med,” training and working in the world-class academic setting of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is a privilege. My co-faculty and the residents that we train are incredibly intelligent and intellectually creative people.
In New York, we care for a diverse range of patients with complicated brain problems, many of whom have amazing personal stories. Dealing with the stresses of our occupation forges very tight interpersonal bonds and fosters an environment of friendship and cooperation. We spend as much or more time together as we do with our families. We share our successes and microanalyze our failures.
Equally importantly, we laugh and smile, a lot. Our job is way too hard to not have fun and enjoy what we are doing!
Being filmed for “NY Med” for the first season and again now was a great experience. All of the crew from the top down are very nice people, intensely hard working and really skilled. They were here all hours of day and night and seamlessly blended into the background, allowing us to carry out our day-to-day patient care activities. They captured the range of humanity that makes our job an emotional roller coaster.
Medicine is changing, some for the good and some for the not so good. When I was training, we were always on call, 24/7, with one weekend off per month. We knew our patients like the back of our hands.
Now, with changing work-hour restrictions, residency has become more like shift work. The discontinuity in patient care makes it harder for the residents to train.
But on the other hand, residents and attending physician now have much better personal lives. It is no longer a sign of weakness to adapt your schedule to take family time off. I coached all my sons and try to make it to as many of their activities as possible in behavior that is now encouraged rather than hidden.
Now, I’ll have to wait and see if any of them follow in my footsteps.
Dr. Guy McKhann is a neurosurgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. McKhann graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Duke University, with Research Honors for his investigations into brain tumor immunobiology. He attended Yale School of Medicine where he was AOA, cum laude, a Farr Scholar and one of five recipients of the medical school’s highest thesis award. McKhann trained in neurological surgery at the University of Washington, as well as Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in Wimbledon, England.