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How A Former US Navy Surgeon Views Life and Death

I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Barrett Wiseman, MD MBA a former US Navy Neurosurgeon, former Founder of ThinkFirst Taiwan, and current founder of Hippocrates Studio LLC. Tell Your Story. Who are you? I watched Top Gun while I was in high school and fell in love with the F14 jet. I wanted to […]

I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Barrett Wiseman, MD MBA a former US Navy Neurosurgeon, former Founder of ThinkFirst Taiwan, and current founder of Hippocrates Studio LLC.

Tell Your Story. Who are you?

I watched Top Gun while I was in high school and fell in love with the F14 jet. I wanted to fly that when I grew up; however, you weren’t allowed to be that class of jet fighter at the time as a female.

I was also interested in medicine.

So, my father, who was an orthopedic surgeon in the Navy Reserves, said that if I were a doctor in the military, I could get a backseat ride in those jets, to which I thought “done!”

I decided to go to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, where I received my M.D. It was a great experience, an amazing school. During that time, I got my F18 backseat ride, which was frankly one of the coolest experiences of my life!

From there, I proceeded to what I really enjoyed in medicine, which was the neuro side. When you look at neuro-anatomy and neurological diseases, you can become either a neurologist or a neurosurgeon. I was much more hands-on, and I liked the surgery aspect, so I chose to go towards neurosurgery.

After medical school, I attended the University of North Carolina for my neurosurgery residency and did my spine fellowship at the University of Washington with Chris Shaffrey.

Immediately after fellowship, I was stationed overseas in Japan for two years, then San Diego, where I found I missed living in Asia. So, I volunteered to go back over to Japan and was there for another eight years until retirement from the Navy in 2015.

Leaving the Navy marked a time I wanted to pivot. I saw a need for physicians to get business training to assist with what was/is happening within medicine. I wanted to be more of a voice into what is playing out in healthcare now. How are we going to make the system work, make it better for the physicians, provide better access for patients? I wanted to be part of that narrative, which leads me to complete my MBA. My family had also moved to Taiwan at the time secondary to my husband’s work, so it was a perfect time.

What word of advice have you lived by?

“Relax, or you’ll die all tensed up.” It’s something my father always said to me. If things are going to hell, you need to relax and do your best. My father would say, “if you are going to die you might as well have relaxed and done your best to work through the situation than panicking.”

Honestly, during surgery, during a lot of tense times, it’s taking that deep breath where I can almost hear my father say, ‘hey relax, or you’ll die all tensed up.’ The best that I can do for myself, for my patients, or for my family is to honestly, try to relax and think through what is happening in front of me.

You have been in a lot of life and death situations. Do you have any specific tips or techniques that you’ve used during crisis moments?

Take a deep breath.

In stressful situations, it’s really about getting a point of control. There was a case when I was a resident where the attending had a tear in an artery. I’ve never seen so much blood in my life. I watched the attending get points of control and work hard to get the tear repaired. He would then stop, reassess ‘how did that work? What should he do differently’, and then he would adjust, work, stop, get control again, slow things down. Readjust. It was just such a great learning process watching that. This was all happening very fast, but it’s taking that deep breath, getting a little point of control and then working towards resolving the situation. By the way, the patient did well.

And you know, if you lose your crap totally, you are screwed and so is your situation. I learned to understand that the best hope for myself and my situation at hand is me keeping control.

How has your experience shaped the way you see death and injury?

Even though I have seen people die from trauma and brain tumors, I am still awed at how thin the line between life and death is in this world. Despite years of seeing that, it doesn’t make it any less powerful. That one little action or misjudgment — and that it’s all it takes. I’m always humbled by how close death can be.

I think this is why I started ThinkFirst Taiwan, a Brain and Spinal Prevention Program for kids in Taiwan. The ThinkFirst Foundation was formed by American neurosurgical societies over 30 years ago to educated children to “think first” before committing an action from which injury and/or death may result. I saw a lot of kids in Taiwan who do not wear helmets or seatbelts.

I remember standing in front of 500 elementary kids. I asked them “how many of you wear a helmet every time you get on a bike,” and less than 20 kids raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you put on a seatbelt every time you are in a car?” and less than 20 kids raised their hands. I remember the teachers and administrators looking around in shock.

All it takes is one instance, one accident, one moment for your life to change. It’s going back to that death and injury theme. It’s amazing what, for example, not putting on a seatbelt or helmet can do, and how your entire world can be shattered. It’s important to do whatever you can so that you don’t cross that line.

What do you stand for?

I stand for making the medical experience better for both patients and physicians. I am very worried about how physicians are dealing with all the changes and regulations that are coming down. There is already a tremendous amount of stress in physicians’ day-to-day life, then layer on top of that the administrative side of things. Many physicians are burning out.

Because of that, I now stand for trying to make that process better — particularly for physicians. A happy, well- functioning physician does a lot better for their patients.

Recently, I started Hippocrates Studio YouTube Channel, which are short educational videos hoping to make it easier for a physician to have an appointment and be on even ground with their patients. I love the web, and patients definitely learn important medical information from the internet. However, patients maybe learning the wrong information or expecting incorrect treatments that may or may not be within the general standard of care. It creates enormous problems in the clinic. Physicians may end up trying to undo Dr. Google most of an appointment, patients can be upset if their web expectations were not met, and both parties end up wasting valuable time that could be used to treat the diagnosis.

The videos highlight specific chronic illness, and provides short, interesting, and more importantly, educational “now what” about expectations of illness progression for the patients.

I hope that, with time, the project will help provide a better baseline for when a patient and a provider can go into an appointment with educational in-depth information and turn our energies towards what is truly important-taking care of the patient.

To learn more about Hippocrates Studio YouTube Channel, click here.

Originally published at medium.com

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