Recognizing Metaphor

“Recognizing metaphor in life is the highest form of genius.” -David Charron
When we see connections between seemingly unrelated things, poetry in struggle, dendrites in leaves, we are literally forging new paths of possibility in our minds and in the world around us. New synapses are formed and reinforced. Novel neural networks are ignited. And the medial frontal lobe launches us forward on a path of meaning, making our marks.
The piece above, resembling a neuronal synapse in wood, is by artist Charles Pifer. It is the result of an experimental artistic process combining various natural woods, electrolytic solutions and electric currents.


An excerpt of the process from the artist’s own words:
“I throw the switch with a 5 foot section of PVC pipe to prevent being anywhere near the device while it is on. Immediately the electricity begins to burn it’s way through the porous wood soaked in the electrolytic solution.”


“The electricity is seeking the path of least resistance between the clips, and the neuronal forms are a byproduct of this action. Once the two sides meet, the electricity begins to arc through the air. I suspect it is using the wood smoke as a medium for travel as the device cannot arc this far normally. I shut off the machine before the piece catches fire.”


“I take the burned wood and brush out the char. I paint the entire piece and sand down the surface until only the paint in the electrically annihilated forms remains.”

Beautiful! Thank you, Charles!

Charles Pifer is a local Architect and Founder of Blade and Branch, a small business based in Tucson, Arizona, which is focused on and harnessing natural phenomenon into beautiful art pieces.

[Photo credit: Charles Pifer, December 2017]


The Power of Gratitude

“The most important and most significant good quality in our human life is gratitude. It is the only quality that will help everyone solve his problems and also run the fastest.” -Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness


Gratitude can bring more meaning and resilience to our work. 

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude

The Neuroscience of Giving Thanks 



[Photo credit: Leif Hass, Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley]


Powerful Retorts

Minority in your chosen profession or not, we all sometimes find ourselves in sticky situations at work. Here are some powerful retorts for your professional armamentarium from 7 Tricky Work Situations by Alicia Bassuk published in the Harvard Business Review:


Design by Sasha Retana, MD. Photo courtesy of Abacus Group.

See full article for descriptions of situations.

Situation #1: Someone takes credit for your idea.

What you should say:

“Thanks for spotlighting my point.”


Situation #2: You’re asked to stay late when you’re about to leave the office for a personal obligation.

What you should say:

“Excuse me, I have another commitment.”


Situation #3: In a pivotal situation, a trusted colleague snaps at you.

What you should say:

“This isn’t about what you do for me. It is about what you did to me.”


Situation #4: You have to say “no.”

What you should say:

“This is a good launching point.”


Situation #5: You have to give negative or awkward feedback to someone you’re close with.

What you should say:

“I’m here to be for you what someone once was for me.”


Situation #6: You need to push back on a decision you believe is wrong.

What you should say:

“This is my preference.”


Situation #7: You need to escalate a serious issue.

What you should say:

“Your response gives me cause to take this further.”





#Metoo in Medicine


by Anonymous, MD (for fear of retaliation)

I recently conducted an informal survey among fellow physician moms on Facebook’s Physician Moms Group page. I asked my female physicians friends to talk about their experiences with sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault in medical school, residency and post-residency. Medicine in the United States has historically been a field dominated by white males. It’s only been in the last 40 years that women have been permitted to don the title of “Doctor” on a consistent basis. Finally, in 2017, U.S. medical schools are admitting a near equal proportion of male and female medical students. Unfortunately, the equal treatment in the field stops there. Female medical students are disproportionately encouraged to go into “softer” fields of medicine – internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics – and leave surgical specialties to the men. Indeed, in our present day, women make up only 10-30% of surgical residents in this country. The women that do enter these male-dominated subspecialties are often subject to persistent yet subtle discrimination by their male counterparts in what often feels like a concerted effort (be it conscious or subconscious) to push them out of the field along the course of their training and careers (see excellent book by Dr. Frances Conley, “Walking Out on the Boys”). As medicine is also an inherently hierarchical profession, it proves very easy for male colleagues to “get away” with daily sexist comments, harassment, and in some cases sexual assault. Complain, and lose your promotion. Raise your voice, and be fired. The boys will be sure to have each others’ backs. Fears of retaliation, including the incineration of hard-earned careers, paralyze the female practitioner from taking action.

Of the numerous stories shared in my survey, only two doctors ever reported their stories of sexual harassment and assault to authorities. In one case, the young doctor’s residency program director fully supported her through the traumatic process and vowed that sexual discrimination, harassment and assault would not be tolerated in his program.

The other doctor was not so lucky. Her case ultimately ended in litigation, and she had to fight tooth-and-nail to preserve her career and reputation in an environment in which her program director and other physician colleagues were tearing her to pieces – trying to force her out of medicine altogether.

Not surprisingly, in this traditionally white male field where all power seems to reside in the hands of very few at the top, only one physician of those surveyed had a suggestion as to what to do about the persistent problem of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault among female medical students, residents and physicians: “Work on holding the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accountable,” and “We need to identify a few leaders amongst female residency program directors to put forth resolutions in the Program Director Associations.”

Of the 145 neurosurgery residency program directors, only one is a woman.

Learning Optimism

In the classic positive psychology text, Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, PhD discusses the importance of optimism in surviving and thriving through setbacks and failures. It is optimism that distinguishes the most successful from the rest.

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Anatomically, optimism in the brain has been localized to the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala – two areas that can be strengthened with practice. As a minority in one’s chosen field, the stronger you can make these areas of your brain, the more you can persist through difficulties and discrimination with equanimity and ease.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” -Calvin Coolidge


““Transcendence,” for the Chacoans, literally meant “going over” and resisting the temptation to choose an alternate route. Transcendence does not mean distraction from pain and suffering; it means looking it full in the face and thereby robbing it of its power.  ” -From Positive Spirituality in Health Care by Frederic Craigie, Jr., PhD


Song credit: Leon Bridges – River 


Leverage Your Genius

Thank you to Simma Lieberman for speaking about the importance of diversity in the workplace today on NPR’s 1A.

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Image courtesy of Susan C. Pitt, MD. The New Yorker magazine link here.

“The purpose of diversity and inclusion is for more innovation. Some organizations tend to forget that. And sometimes, in Silicon Valley, the focus is only on numbers and not what you do with people when you get them into your organization – how do you leverage their genius? So you can be more innovative? So you can expand your market? When people only focus on numbers, it doesn’t really move us forward.” -Simma Lieberman, Workplace Culture Strategist, Simma Lieberman Consulting

Also, a response to the male Google engineer who implied that women aren’t cut out for the tech industry: Stop Equating “Science” with Truth by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

The Target

Too often in medicine, we work with members of the healthcare team who have large targets on their backs. Perhaps you have personally experienced those crosshairs. Why do we form professional cliques? Why do outsiders have targets placed on them? Is this in the best interest of patients?

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The fear that asking for help could cost one her or his career.

A hospital bullies a physician and threatens termination for her disability. 

Girl Neurosurgeon

A man and his son are driving down the road and they are in a bad car crash. The father dies instantly. The boy is taken to the hospital where he is immediately rushed to surgery, but the surgeon looks down and says “I can’t perform this surgery, he’s my son!” How is this possible?

What does it mean to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field?

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The Secret World of Women Surgeons You Had No Idea Existed. 

Seventy-eight percent of physician mothers experience gender, maternal or both gender and maternal discrimination in their careers. 

Doctors with kids

Let’s Expose the Gender Pay Gap. 


Do you have a story about being different from the people around you in your chosen profession? How did it affect you? How did you respond?

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Two female neurosurgeon’s perspective on the progress of women in neurosurgery.

A male neurosurgeon’s perspective on the progress of women in neurosurgery. 

Women in Tech Speak Frankly. 

The Myriad Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace. 

The Wall Street Journal Admits It Has A Gender Problem