Coming Attractions: Featured Student Writing on Illness and (sometimes) Healing

My hope, Gentle Reader, is that you associate June’s approach with nothing more taxing than breaking out the ol’ backyard slip-n-slide. It’s a somewhat odd time of year, though, for those of us whose peculiar profession it is to haunt the halls of so-called higher learning. Despite the fact that final grades have been posted—a signal to students that their labors are definitively and blessedly finished—I don’t find it nearly so easy, as their professor, to declare mission accomplished. Instead, I continue to ruminate over each of my classes, tallying successes and fretting about ways to improve things that didn’t go as well as I’d intended. Continue reading →

State of Women’s Health Symposium

Lifecycle WomanCare (LWC), a nonprofit health organization in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania is sponsoring a State of Women’s Health Symposium on April 25th. We interviewed Kathy Boockvar, recent former Executive Director of LWC and Senior Advisor to the Pennsylvania Governor on Election Modernization, about this unique event that brings practitioners and policymakers together. Continue reading →

Ben dreams of deadly sushi.

Ben Utter, one of the founders of Vital, reflects on how we–doctors, scholars, parents, everyone–can improve each other’s health by listening.


The lark sings loud and glad,
Yet I am not loth
That silence should take the song and the bird
And lose them both.
               —D.H. Lawrence, “Listening”

The doorbell rang in my dream the other night, and I opened our front door to find a food deliveryman. Without a word, he handed me a cooler and walked back toward his car. Inside the Styrofoam container were several slices of fugu, the infamous, highly toxic pufferfish, the kind prepared only by highly-skilled Japanese chefs, lest a residual trace of poison kill a diner. In the dream, I handed these morsels to my young daughter and son and watched—passively, but, as is often the case in dreams, with a suffocating sense of imminent danger—as they slurped them down. I awoke with a gasp, disoriented, still wondering whether or not this dangerous dinner was going to send my children into renal failure (turns out that on this count, at least, I needn’t have worried, since tetrodotoxin kills by paralyzing the lungs—an unsurprising error on the part of my mind’s dream production company, which had no more data to draw on than what I knew about fugu from watching that episode of The Simpsons). Continue reading →

Race without Racism: On Assessing Race as a Risk Factor

An interview with Yekki Song 

As part of Vital’s series on Racism in Science, we interviewed medical humanities researcher Yekki Song, a 6th year MD-PhD student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she studies how society shapes and influences the practice of medicine.

We spoke with her about a newly-published paper she co-authored in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, one that caused her to begin questioning the way in which she and her colleagues had used race as a key predictor of health outcomes 
Continue reading →

Can improv improve healthcare?

A review of Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

A 2012 study conducted on behalf of Bosch home appliances found that over 40 percent of Americans admitted to having fought with a family member over the correct way to load a dishwasher. This is not one of our prouder national statistics, but according to Alan Alda, it’s one that probably shouldn’t surprise us. As he explains in his new book, “Pretty much everybody misunderstands everybody else. Maybe not all the time, and not totally, but just enough to seriously mess things up.” Continue reading →

Racism in Science?

We at Vital are excited to announce a new series, beginning soon, on Racism in Science.

It might surprise a great many people to learn what social scientists have long maintained, that race has little if any biological basis. If, as Kittles and Benn-Torres explain race has “no clear biological definition yet strong social and cultural meanings,” what does it mean today to study race in science, medicine, and health? Continue reading →