Chapter 05: A Mentor in Medical School Teaches Important Research Lessons

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Chapter 05: A Mentor in Medical School Teaches Important Research Lessons

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Dr. Benjamin begins this chapter by describing how well his memory serves him in recalling details of patient histories. He also notes that while working in laboratories during the summers of his medical school education he met Dr. Max Schubert, who put him to work on glycosaminoglycan. Through this research, Dr. Schubert taught him the importance of having the right controls in research and not accepting what books say about results until you have collected the data, a lesson that Dr. Benjamin says holds true in medicine. He talks about the need to exercise flexibility when interpreting research results.

Identifier

BenjaminR_01_20141212_C05

Publication Date

12-12-2014

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Professional Path; The Researcher; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Formative Experiences; On Research and Researchers; Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

It sounds like you’re kind of a systems thinker, that you look at the big picture.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I don’t know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

But that inability or difficulty recalling individual details that you can’t hang on a system is like one of the measures of a person who is a systems thinker, yeah.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

So I have a very good memory. People have commented on it. But it’s highly selective. I’m terrible at remembering people’s names, but when it comes to details of their medical history going back, I can probably remember the whole thing.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. When did you know you had that ability?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Long after I started getting into practice. (laughter) I mean, it’s not something I had thought of early on.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, it kind of occurred to you.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

But while I was in medical school, I shifted from going to summer school to working in a lab in the summer, and so probably after—I don’t remember whether I did it after the first year, but after the second year, I started working in one of the labs at NYU.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What were you doing?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I was doing basically biochemistry, studying glycosaminoglycans from cartilage and trying to figure out what was there. And I worked in the laboratory of a doctor whose name was Max Schubert [phonetic], and he taught me some important lessons.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What did he teach you?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

So the thing that I remember just absolutely crystal clear was I had come through at the time we had very limited tools, but we used a colorimeter and measured the absorption of the different compounds that we tried to analyze. And I had extracted, worked out a way of extracting the cartilage and coming up with some compounds that I could actually show some peaks on the colorimeter. And I brought them in to him and I said, “Well, I don’t know what this represents because, you know, it should have been chondroitin sulfate, but chondroitin sulfate is supposed to have a maximum peak at 468 nanometers,” or whatever, I don’t remember the number, “but it had this absorption pattern. And my compound didn’t fit that because it was 482.”And Dr. Schubert looked at me and he said, “Well, you know, Bob, I don’t know as much as you do about the precise spectrum of chondroitin sulfate on this machine, but it sort of looks to me like maybe it is chondroitin sulfate, so why don’t you do this experiment where you take some chondroitin sulfate and put it in and extract it the same way and see what it looks like.” And, of course, it was exactly identical to the stuff that I had found, and it hadn’t read the rulebook that knew that it was supposed to be at 475. It was at 468 or whatever. And I realized, first of all, the importance of having the right controls in your experiment, but, more important, not accepting what the book says about something unless you can actually demonstrate what it is. So the book may say that this shouldn’t be that way, but if, in fact, that’s what happens when it’s there, it is that way and the book’s wrong. So always get the data rather than what people say about the data. And that holds true especially in medicine, where things are never as clear cut as they should be. So you have to accept the flexibility in your interpretations that the tumor might not have read the textbook, but it is what it is.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Thank you, Dr. Schubert. (laughs)

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Right. Thank you, Dr. Schubert. Great lesson.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Huh.

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