Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

A Handbook for Your Health

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By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising

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The Health Care Handbook stares up at me from its place next to my computer bag, my ever-present phone, and a miniature regiment of TV remote controls.  A fairly slim volume of two hundred pages or so, the Handbook calls itself “a clear and concise guide to the United States health care system.”  If you still take your book-knowledge the old-fashioned way—that is, via book—then it’s $15.99 on Amazon, just a few dollars more than the average cost of seeing a movie.  The Kindle version is $7.99 (the average cost of your small soda).  The authors are Elisabeth Askin and Nathan Moore, two medical students at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

I sat next to one of these authors, Mr. Moore, at a dinner not too long ago.  I was at WashU’s medical school with a group of pre-health advisors from across the country, having accepted the school’s very generous invitation to spend a few days in St. Louis.  We saw WashU as a med student might see it—impressed (even a little awed) by the opportunities for research, clinical training, and service.  I hadn’t started the book yet when I sat next to its author, unfortunately; if I had, I would’ve asked better questions.  But with a little prompting, Mr. Moore explained that he and his classmate had set out to provide a general overview of our health care system, one as accessible as possible, simplifying a complex network of providers, patients, and politics without dumbing it down.  From what I’ve read so far, they have done just that.

I’m barely into Chapter 2 at this point but I can already tell you that the Handbook is worth reading.  Mr. Moore and Ms. Askin know their audience is made up of people who have experienced the system as patients, from the outside and not the inside.  They anticipate questions well and avoid digressing into the acronyms and jargon of “hospitalspeak.”  And, they’ve included great suggestions for further reading, having clearly learned from more seasoned individuals in policy and practice who know their stuff (the fact that they could do this book as medical students speaks very highly of the WashU faculty and their support, in my opinion).

This past fall marked the fourth presidential election since I started doing pre-health advising.  Every four years there has been a strong argument for pre-health students to know how the political climate was affecting the health care system they were choosing to enter.  With President Obama’s reforms beginning to take effect in 2013, now is no exception—in fact, right now it may be more important than ever for aspiring doctors, nurses, PAs, and the like to understand why “Cost-Access-Quality” is the central triad of health care in this country, or how the tensions between providers and administrators, the long history of “doctor autonomy,” and the physician shortage will be your future realities. 

And so, I’m inviting you . . .  Will you read Askin & Moore’s Health Care Handbook with me in the coming months?  We’re all busy, so let’s say we’ll finish it by the end of this semester, giving ourselves plenty of time.  Let me know if you’re going to do it; I’d like to know what you think of the book.  For me, it’s important to be able to hold my own a bit more in discussions, even arguments, about health care.  I’d also like to help pre-health students think beyond their love of studying science and desire to help people.  Many of us are not inclined toward policy.  We prefer the one-on-one interactions, the immediate sense of helping.  But that doesn’t mean we should, or even can, ignore the many changes to the scenery, the directions, and the very stage on which we perform our roles.

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