Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#1 Hospital

i havent joined theme day for a while, and was sure i didnt have a fitting photo for the one of august. until i saw this cookie lying around. its been lying on our kitchen counter since july 17 (im sort of conducting the mc donalds experiment, as i dont feel the urge to eat this cookie at all. which says a lot, as i generally eat cookies/chips/chocolate/candy instantly...). so, massachusetts general hospital (MGH) was named the number 1 hospital on the 2012-13 us news & world report americas best hospital list. it was a big happening. there were signs everywhere, and free cookies and bracelets and commemorative pins with MGH #1. these annual rankings are done since 23 years, out of which johns hopkins hospital has been number 1 for 21. so... what does that mean? did johns hopkins get worse? or mgh better? whats the use of such rankings anyways..? shouldnt health care be excellent anywhere, regardless? why should you give it a number? 
should i be proud? i was a patient at this hospital, and i work here. my doctor, even before the rankings, told me the same each time i saw him; we are the best, our treatment is the best you can get, and you are my favorite patient (at some point tim and i knew when he would say what, and it got boring... although he was a nice doctor, i do have to say that). now, as a researcher, should i be proud? maybe i should be proud of the fact that i still didnt give up research, even after all that ive seen along the way, even at the #1 hospital of the usa.
a few examples, that didnt necessarily happen to me personally. when being ill, but still appearing at work, telling your boss you dont feel that well, getting as a reply; "work. you are only sick when you are in the hospital with high fever. i come too, when i am sick, so it is not an excuse.". or: "why did you get even more children? now you will definitely not make it in science." or, when working at the bench (which is somewhat similar to cooking, and sometimes you just have to continue what you are doing, or you ruin it) and the boss comes by to ask you something; "next time, when i come, you stop your work and talk to me. you dont continue working, understood? i am your boss and if you dont give me the respect i deserve, you can go. anyone can do your job, in no time i have you replaced." i dont know the number of abused postdocs, but i think there are quite some. its not something postdocs talk about a lot, as it is embarrassing. more importanly, most are afraid to loose their job. many are on temporary visas, tied to their job. loosing the job means loosing the visa, which means having to leave the country; depending on the type of visa, you have to be gone within a month. it doesnt matter that you lived here for several years, that you have an entire household and what not. you have to leave, or you become "illegal". surely, bosses know that their postdocs are dependent and powerless.
now some other numbers; this is the salary many of us postdocs get on their bank account each month; around 2300 dollars. that at least includes health insurance. but it doesnt include retirement savings. 2300 dollars, with the average rent of a boston 1 bedroom apartment being around 1900 dollars... even when disregarding the level of education (PhD), then consider the workload; 40+ hours, and often you have to come in on the weekend (some bosses demand (!!) workweeks of over 50-60 hours, and coming in entire days in the weekend). for 2300 dollars... i think those are sad numbers. aside from the miserable salary and the abuse many endure, there is scientific as well as financial misconduct (thats what you sometimes read about in the news; some scientist that faked data and now has to retract his/her publications, and thats just one example). all of that makes you wonder; why would anyone want to do science?!
purely because of the science! its exciting! you get to "play" in the lab, do experiments, see what comes out, or not. get to think about what that means, what other things you can try next. thats how "stuff" is solved. how eventually diseases are understood, and perhaps even cured. thats why people go into science; the excitement. the numbers, whether salary-wise and/or the number of times you were yelled at or got otherwise screwed, is what makes many postdocs leave science eventually. and thats just sad...
by the way, tim thought this cookie was perhaps distributed to crank up the number of patients at mgh.....
(if you didnt get it, theme day this month is numbers!). for other participants of august theme day, go over here to julies blog!