Recommended reading: Board picks the ‘best of 2018’


Recommended Reading lists have been over the years among the most popular features in this publication. It is therefore fitting that for this last issue of ACS Surgery News, we have once again imposed upon our Editorial Advisory Board to come up with their choice of the most important studies published in 2018. They were asked to choose a few studies that they consider most significant in their subspecialties and to explain why these studies should matter to all surgeons.

Some editorial advisers for some publications fill honorary positions with no real responsibility or work involved. Not so for the Editorial Advisory Board of ACS Surgery News. Each member provided a steady stream of commentaries, recommendations, and advice. The publication and the managing editor would have been lost without their kind and willing assistance. In their busy professional lives, they somehow found the time to contribute their expertise to assist their colleagues and their profession. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their many years of service.

We hope our readers will find the list and the comments of interest.


St. Laurent J et al. HPV vaccination and the effects on rates of HPV-related cancers. Curr Probl Cancer 2018; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.currproblcancer.2018.06.004

Dr. Mark C. Weissler

As a head and neck surgeon over the past 30+ years, I have seen the dramaticrise of one form of HPV-related cancer in the United States, namely, HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer. This is a true epidemic. It is also a cancer that may well be preventable through vaccination. We have slowly made progress over the past 4 decades in reducing the number of tobacco- and alcohol-related cancers. Here is another cancer that truly falls within the category of a public health problem for which public health solution of vaccination is clearly the most rational approach. Everyone should be aware of these virally induced cancers and what can be done to prevent them. This article presents the “state of the art” knowledge about these cancers and what we can hopefully accomplish through worldwide public health initiatives.

Mark C. Weissler, MD, FACS

Palliative Care

Kopecky KE et al. Third-year medical students’ reactions to surgical patients in pain: Doubt, distress, and depersonalization. J Pain and Symptom Manage. 2018;56(5):719-26.

Dr. Geoffrey P. Dunn

This insightful study done by surgeons, two of them possessing palliative care and bioethics expertise, is a qualitative analysis of the content of 341 essays written by third-year medical students who described their experiences with surgical patients in pain. Students found it difficult to reconcile patient suffering with the therapeutic objective of treatment. As a result they learned constrained empathy and preference for technical solutions and because they feared an empathic response to pain might compromise the fortitude and efficiency required to be a doctor they pursued strategies to distance themselves from these feelings. The authors note, “Although doctors frequently interact with patients who have serious emotional and physical pain, few have received formal instruction on how to attend to these needs or developed a personal approach to cope with the tragedy of patient illness. Instead, the physician’s response to patients in pain is learned passively and perpetuated through generations. Students now seek to suppress empathy to get the job done. These observations have important implications for physicians, patients, and educators.” For me the study is like a parachute flare illuminating the landscape of early surgical educational experience during which the seeds for future problems such as lost patient trust and burnout are sown. It offers the hope that structured introspective activities may mitigate this.

Su A et al. Beyond pain: Nurses’ assessment of patient suffering, dignity, and dying in the intensive care unit. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2018;55:1591-98.
After reading this sobering study, my reaction was, “If the gold rusts what will happen to the iron?” In this study using chart abstraction, nurses caring for 200 patients in a tertiary care cardiac ICU and a surgical ICU were interviewed about their assessment and perception of the physical and psychosocial dimensions of ICU patients’ experiences in their final week of life. The authors note that nursing symptom assessments have been previously shown to be highly reliable and end-of-life comfort and dignity have been shown to be compatible with ICU level of care. Despite this and the availability of extensive interdisciplinary support from palliative care teams, chaplains, and social workers, dying ICU patients are perceived by nurses to experience extreme indignities and suffer beyond physical pain. The study found that attention to symptoms such as dyspnea and edema might improve the quality of death in the ICU. It is small wonder that moral fatigue and burnout have become prevalent themes of ICU caring.

Balboni T et al. The spiritual event of serious illness. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2018;56(5):816-22.
An ashen-faced dear friend gently reminded me as he was hemorrhaging from an advanced gastric cancer, “Geoff, lets make this a spiritual event, not a medical one.” This paper conjured up this memory with the thoughtful, in-depth account and analysis of patients’ experiences and attitudes that shaped the authors concept of illness as a spiritual event. The idea of spirituality as a basic component of consciousness, especially as it relates to suffering, has been present from the very beginning of modern palliative care and can be traced back to the concept of “total pain” introduced by Dame Cicely Saunders in 1963. The capacity to reframe biophysical calamity as spiritual opportunity is the signature of the most skilled and adroit supportive care we can offer our patients and their families.

Geoffrey P. Dunn, MD, FACS


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