Asking the Right Question at #ASCO 2014: What Are You Hoping For?

Asking the Right Question at #ASCO 2014: What Are You Hoping For?

Michael Jordan Fisch, MD, MPH, FASCO

May 30, 2014

Becoming professionalized in medicine is a process that starts in medical school and gets consolidated through the remarkably absorbing daily process of being around patients, health professionals, and scientists. One part of this process is learning to ask the right questions. Early in our careers, we paid close attention to the questions asked of patients and family members at the bedside on rounds (i.e., “Does your husband snore?”). We certainly paid close attention, as well, to questions asked of us on rounds (“Is there an anion gap?”). Through observing these questions, we learned to anticipate priority issues, to find a parsimonious diagnosis, and to craft succinct, well-justified action plans for our patients.

As the 2014 ASCO Annual Meeting gets launched, the question that comes to my mind is the same question I asked of a patient in clinic recently: “What are you hoping for?” This year, like always, I feel tremendous excitement and anticipation at the ASCO Annual Meeting. Yet, it is not the answers that I am soaking up year after year, for the answers always shift and squirm and change. Like others, I gobble up the questions. Professionalized to be curious, we keenly observe how colleagues from around the world cleverly frame their clinical and scientific experiments. And we learn from mistakes that we notice (our own, and others’ too). There is a real thrill involved with hearing wise senior leaders (as well as eager young thinkers) asking important questions from the microphone or posing the next logical questions as they comment as discussants from the podium.

Another question asked during a patient encounter might be: “What else?” It is an open invitation to speak up and add something. And this way of asking seems to elicit something more often than “Do you have any further questions”? So here’s something else; something more that I am hoping for at this ASCO meeting. I am hoping to pace myself. I am hoping to experience the meeting just a little more gently. There is so much happening at ASCO, so many people to see and things to do and topics to think deeply about—it can be overwhelming. Pacing myself would include getting enough sleep, eating mindfully, and allowing some time for some exercise and some time to be quiet here in Chicago.

Our patients are clearly hoping for the wishful ideal—that we will bring back news of a cure for their illness. So, what are you hoping for this year at ASCO?

Tweet: Learning to ask the right questions at #ASCO14: CC @fischmd @ASCO #ASCOConnection


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