Penn Medicine News Blog: Posts by Steve Graff

Steve Graff

Steve came to Penn Medicine with five years’ experience in health and science communications and media relations. He has worked in journalism, at government agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Department of Energy, in the private sector as an environmental scientist, and most recently in public relations at an academic medical center covering oncology and basic science departments. His experiences include spearheading social media activities for organizations, blogging, internal communications, conferences and media strategy and outreach. Steve graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with a BS in Biology and the University of Colorado, Boulder with an MA in Journalism.

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Standing Up to Pancreatic Cancer is Tough—But Not Impossible

Cancer Researchers and Celebrities Come Together for a Stand Up to Cancer Event to Announce New “Dream Team”

“It can run, but it can’t hide.”

That’s the message Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, the Hanna Wise Professor in Cancer Research in the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) and the Perelman School of Medicine, had for the crowd when he took the podium at the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) event in San Diego announcing the new pancreatic cancer “Dream Team” he’ll co lead alongside Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University.  “It’s time to beat this thing,” he said.   

483333001Thanks to an $8 million grant from SU2C and the Lustgarten Foundation, the “Dream Team” may do just that. The group, which includes researchers from the ACC and institutions across the United States and England, will work together to develop new therapies to harness patients’ own immune cells to treat pancreatic cancer—one of the most promising avenues for cancer.

But despite advances in treating leukemia and melanoma with immunotherapy, such clinical efforts for pancreatic cancer lag behind.  “This is the type of funding that can make a huge difference,” Vonderheide said. “We believe the immune system ultimately has the power to cure pancreatic cancer. We’ve learned a lot about the power of the immune system in other tumor types… now it’s time for pancreatic cancer.”

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Match Day 2014: "Episode IV: A New Hope"

"Match Day has come and gone." In his final post, medical student Karthik Muthuswamy tells us how Match Day played out for him, and where he's heading for his residency training. Congrats to Karthik and all the students!

And if you've never experienced Match Day at the Perelman School Medicine, now's your chance. Check out Match Day video from this year's ceremony!

By: Karthik Muthuswamy

"Episode IV: A New Hope"

The epilogue

The letters are opened, food has been eaten, dance floors have been trounced. Match day has come and gone.

It was an amazing experience. There was just so much excitement in the air, it was crazy! It was interesting to see how a few hours later... all of us were beat. Maybe it's because we are older now, but more likely it's because of how exciting match day was. I think our adrenal glands were completely done after pumping out gallons of adrenaline to keep up with the match day.
The sheer excitement was amazing and humbling at the same time. I can't believe I spent the last 4 years with these amazing people. Penn Med's match list for 2014 (as it is every year) is amazing. It was also so nice to see so many friends and families come out to support us. I know everyone things graduation is a big deal, but for medical students - it's all about match day. This is what we've worked very hard for over the last 4 years. Actually for many of us, this is something we've worked towards for almost 2 decades. So definitely the bigger deal.

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Match Day 2014: "Episode 2--The Middle Chapter"

This year for our annual Match Day blog series, Karthik Muthuswamy will be sharing his thoughts and perspective on his own Match Day experience. Check back throughout the week for new posts!

Episode 2--The Middle Chapter

"So I pull out my phone and there it was: a new email..."

 By: Karthik Muthuswamy

11:58 am, Monday morning: I'm walking across the South Street Bridge onto campus. Officially, I'm walking to the administration office to pick up some paperwork for the VA (I'm planning to do a rotation there in April).

Unofficially, I'm walking over as a backup: today is the day we find out if we matched or not. If we didn't match, we have to go through the "scramble" process (now called SOAP - see my previous post for more details) to find residencies with an open slot. To do that, it's recommended we be on campus between noon and 2 pm to meet with our advisors to help with the scramble process.

As I mentioned last time, this is the anxious phase for me: if I match, then the excitement will build. My plan last night was to play video games and watch TV till about 2 am so my body would sleep till 10:30 am. So I wouldn't have to nervously pace for too long before the National Residency Match Program emails went out.

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2014 Match Day at Perelman School of Medicine: "Episode I (The Prequel)"

It happens every March here at the Perelman School of Medicine. Graduating medical students come together for “Match Day” with their classmates and wait for the envelope that will tell them where they are headed for their residency training.  

This year for our annual Match Day blog series, Karthikeyan Muthuswamy will be sharing his thoughts and perspective on his own Match Day experience. Check back throughout the week for new posts!

Match 2014 Episode I (The Prequel)

[It’s] very hard for us as fledgling doctors to sit on our hands while a magical computer in the sky crunches numbers and decides our fates.”

By: Karthik Muthuswamy

I have heard nothing back yet about where I stand in the match, and it's pretty nerve wracking. To bring you up to speed, here's the sequence of events in Match 2014 (I took this directly from the National Residency Match Program website).

Karthik_m_CroppedIt's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was looking through long spreadsheets with complex calculations trying to figure out how to rank the programs I was interested in. I had multiple categories: location, cost of living, "feel" of the program, future opportunities, future "settle down" potential, etc. I designed an awkward weighting for each of the categories. Then I plugged in hard values based on my interview day (and research from here for cost of living). All of this culminated in a final rank list. I compared this against a more subjective rank list I'd come up with (which had significant input from my fiancee). Funny enough, they were very similar (which probably means my subjective selection took into account all the objective categories in the excel calculator).

Finally, with my fiancee on the line, I clicked "Certify my rank order list" one final time. All of this happened a few days ahead of the Feb 26th deadline.

What now?  ...We sit on our hands till Match day rolls around. In a way - this is good. There's nothing more (within reason) we can do to affect the outcome of the match process. So, every time I start dreaming (or nightmare-ing) about match day / week, it's easy enough to tell myself: "Well, I can't do anything about it, so I might as well just sit on my hands and watch some TV."

Problem is - how many people in the medical field do you know who are ok with sitting on their hands? In many cases (many more than medicine would like to accept) - doing less is better. But doctors have historically been horrible at doing less. Discussing whether or not doing less is more is a topic for another day - but suffice it to say that doctors, as a whole, prefer to do rather than not do. This makes it very hard for us as fledgling doctors to sit on our hands while a magical computer in the sky crunches numbers and decides our fates.

The best we can do is keep ourselves busy. On a personal level - I have a lot riding on this (as does everyone). This is my third career. I put quite a bit on the line by leaving the corporate pharmaceutical world after 5 years and entering medical school. It may be an oversimplification - but all your efforts over your 4(+) years in medical school boils down to this: the Match. It will determine where you'll end up for the next 3 or more years of your life. In some cases, it also determines what path you walk down - what kind of doctor you'll become. No pressure.

I'm lucky in a way: I was doing some clinical rotations for the past few weeks. I'm also directing, acting, dancing, collecting funds for and making ads for the medical school play we do every year. All of this keeps me busy by default. And there's all these TV shows I have to catch up on!

But patience has never been my strong suit. And limbo sucks.

NRMP hasn't been too helpful either. You find out on Monday if you matched, then on Friday you find out where you matched. The reason for this separation is the back-up process built into the match called SOAP (Supplementary Offer and Acceptance Program). SOAP kicks in if you do not match in the first round of matching. Mind you, this is significantly better than the previous back-up process (affectionately referred to as "The Scramble") because SOAP is more computer-based. So, why is NRMP not being very helpful during our wait? They send us emails telling us about our eligibility for SOAP. When you open their emails, it takes a second or two for you two realize that NRMP is telling you nothing about whether you matched or not - they are just saying "hey, you have everything ready to participate in SOAP... just in case". Which is definitely nice of them to do! But for neurotic medical students, those few seconds of panic is quite painful.

So here I sit, waiting to find out if I matched. I am secretly happy that I'm eligible for SOAP (most people who go through the match process are) - just in case. I've thought through possible Plan Bs, Cs and Ds. I'm not sure what's worse - waiting till I find out if I matched, or waiting between Monday and Friday to find out where I matched. I'll report back on that.

The oddest thing? I'm not excited. I'm just nervous and anxious to get this over with. I'm hoping this changes - when I find out if I matched. After everything we've been through to get here, this should be a very exciting time for us. Here's hoping the excitement mounts soon and overshadows all this anxiety and nervousness.

The original post by Karthik can be found here.

OncoLink Celebrates 20 Years!

Creator Joel Goldwein, MD, Honored with “Visionary Award” at Anniversary Event

Before there was Yahoo or Google, there was OncoLink—one of the first web sites to provide to cancer information, or really any information, on the internet. And it started right here at Penn Medicine. Today, 20 years later, it’s one of the most trusted sources of cancer information, having reached nearly 40 million patients, families and healthcare professionals.

Oncolink-108“That’s an amazing accomplishment,” said James Metz, MD, professor of Radiation Oncology and the site’s Editor-in-Chief. “It is truly amazing to be part of the innovation that happens at Penn. I challenge any one to think of a single invention, discovery, or vision that has touched over 40 million individuals in the past 20 years: one man, with one computer and one vision, and millions given hope and inspiration through education on OncoLink.”


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MLK Day at Penn Medicine: Celebrating His Legacy—and Ways to Give Back

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  Here at Penn Medicine, we are celebrating his birthday—and lifelong legacy—by serving our communities and patients with “Days of Caring” events over the next month as a way to give back. 

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSToday, people from across the health system and the Perelman School of Medicine have fanned out across the city engaging in service projects for MLK Day, including HUP's Pamela Mack-Brooks, RN, who volunteered at a blood drive with the American Red Cross and South Jersey Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in Thorofare, NJ.

Special talks across Penn Medicine featuring expert guest speakers and staff will also take place this week, commemorating Dr. King’s life, vision and impact on education, race relations and health care.

Here is a roundup of all the Penn Medicine activities:


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Penn’s Scheie Eye Institute Explores New Treatment to Slow Degenerative Eye Disorder

Right now, patients with keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea that affects one in every 2,000 Americans, don’t have very many treatment options.  They can get contact lenses to keep up with their declining vision, or eventually, may require a corneal transplant if they become intolerant to contact lens.

“We need to find ways to slow this disease so it doesn’t get to that,” said Stephen Orlin, MD, a cornea specialist and refractive surgeon at the Scheie Eye Institute at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  “And that’s why, after hearing about a procedure that could slow the disease a few years ago, I wanted to bring this new clinical trial to Penn—to help move it closer to a reality for patients.”

IMG_4849Developed over 10 years ago overseas, but not yet approved in the U.S., the procedure works to strengthen the chemical bonds in the cornea with riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet light. Over the course of a year in the trial, different intensities of light are applied to the cornea after it has been saturated with the dye for different lengths of time.  The idea is to preserve the vision these patients already have and stop the progression of the disease.

Scheie is one of several institutions around the country recruiting patients in the trial that will test the safety and efficacy of the minimally-invasive procedure, known as corneal collagen crosslinking (KXL), for not only keratoconus, but also corneal ectasia, a complication caused by LASIK surgery.

Nine patients have already been enrolled at Scheie.

Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease in which the cornea thins and bulges into a cone-like shape.  It is the most common ectatic corneal degeneration in the United States, and its severity ranges.  Some lose their vision over time but manage it with corrective contact lenses, while others are worse off, and end up needing a corneal transplant. In that surgical procedure, a damaged or diseased cornea is replaced by donated corneal tissue in its entirety or in part.

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When Kids with Autism Grow Up

The face of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often one of a child’s. But, as a slew of government statistics, advocacy groups and high-profile newspaper articles have reminded us as of late, kids with ASD eventually become adults. In fact, 45,000 to 50,000 kids with ASD reach adulthood every year—and age out of the system of care that helped them through childhood, most likely provided by their school system.

Brodkin, Edward“What are our next options?” Many parents and caregivers may ask themselves when their child comes of age. The responsibility often then shifts entirely to parents to find education or employment and living arrangements.  While most typically-developing teenagers go on to college or work with relative ease, such a transition to adulthood for young adults with ASD and their families can be met with difficulties. Those issues include adjusting to daily life as an adult, education, psychiatric issues associated with ASD, finding strengths, managing finances, work and social skills.

Here at Penn, a new and developing program aims to begin to address that void in care. Led by Edward S. (“Ted”) Brodkin, MD, associate professor of Psychiatry, the Penn Behavioral Health’s Adult Autism Spectrum Program’s main goal is to help adolescents and adults with ASD and their families to optimize their well-being, daily function and the growth of their talents, skills and relationships.

“Most of today’s resources are focused on children, but there’s a large wave of people with ASD who are growing up to be adults who are going to need help—and there are very few services available to them now,” says Dr. Brodkin.

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Penn Doctor Heads to White House for Affordable Care Act Awareness Event with Sec. of Health Sebelius

One of the biggest changes toPhoto the health care system is here: the individual mandate. Millions of uninsured or underinsured can now go online or talk to certified application counselors to find insurance, see if they are eligible for federal help and buy coverage. 

But with this new rollout—and perhaps the key to successfully signing people up—comes education about its existence and the details of coverage. What’s a mandate? Will they discriminate against me? What am I eligible for? Will they take me if I am already sick? Can I afford this?

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Penn Holds White Coat Ceremony, But First a ‘Game of Thrones’ and Sketch Comedy

The White Coat Ceremony doesn’t really kick off medical school, many of you may not know.  Technically, it starts days before, with lectures, group exercises, trips to the library and even patient interaction. OK, they may be more on the fun side, but everyone certainly learns something during orientation week they’re bound to put toward their medical careers.  IMG_3855

It’s Monday morning, and the future of medicine sits—168 students in all, chatting, introducing themselves to one another in the Biomedical Research Building auditorium. 

J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, dean of the medical school, opens the day, joined by Gail Morrison, MD, dean of Education, and others, including Ken Ginsburg, MD, a professor of Pediatrics, with an inspiring and thought-provoking talk that struck a chord with students. “Surviving medical school with your soul intact” was the name of his talk, and at the core was compassion for patients and being fair.  Take care of yourself, not just your patients, and enjoy life with friends and families, he told them. Afterward, four or five students stopped Dr. Ginsburg to commend him for the talk, letting him know that his words resonated.

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High School Students from Around the World Attend Medical School Camp at Penn

IMG_3421If you heard a bunch of high school students scream at the top of their lungs “Don’t kill the patient!” last week at the Penn Medicine Clinical Simulation Center at Rittenhouse, relax. Everyone is alive and well—it was just “Laparoscopic Olympics,” one of the many activities from the Perelman School of Medicine’s first ever Medical School camp designed to teach high school students what’s it like to be a doctor.

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Lessons from Across the Pond: Should Radiologists be the Gatekeepers of Medical Imaging?

Big changes are coming to the US health care system—some in response to the mounting scrutiny of medical imaging.  New task force recommendations, the Choosing Wisely campaign, and Affordable Care Act policies are all attempting to curtail overtesting—with CT scans, MRIs and any other screening often ordered unnecessarily—that can drive up medical costs, lead to waste and unnecessary radiation, and prompt undue anxiety about false positive results.

Jha3486These are all worthy efforts, but to really make an impact, a paradigm shift in clinical care will have to happen, Saurabh Jha, MB, BS, of the department of Radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests this week in a New England Journal of Medicine “Perspective” article.

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The New Adventures of Hayley Goldbach (’15): A Week in Haiti

Cropped-img_07061Before she fully dives into the communications piece of the NBC News Global Health and Media Fellowship (next stop: India), Perelman School of Medicine student Hayley Goldbach scrubbed in for a few procedures at the L’Hopital Bernard Mevs in Haiti.

In a second blog post for this series, Hayley shares her experiences of the week she spent in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Delivering a placenta! Sewing a knife wound victim—and his attacker!

Check out some excerpts and photos from Hayley’s blog below:

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From Haiti to 30 Rock: The New Adventures of Hayley Goldbach (’15)

We first met—and followed—Penn Medicine medical student Hayley Goldbach (M’15) almost two years ago when she blogged about her experiences in Botswana, as part of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership.  We got a peek at her work at the dermatology clinic and what’s it like to study vulvar cancer in HIV positive women. Before that, she chronicled her time in Malawi when she was with Project Peanut Butter, an organization that treats pediatric malnutrition.

Hayley goldbach Lucky for us, Hayley is at it again, but this time she’s hanging up her stethoscope (just for a bit) for a different type of global health endeavor:  journalism. 

She received a prestigious media fellowship with Nancy Snyderman at NBC News in New York, and she will once again be sharing her personal thoughts and experiences with us on the Penn Medicine News blog as this opportunity takes her all across the globe.

“I know I want to make international work a part of my career,” Hayley wrote in 2011, after she returned from Botswana.  “I felt so at home in Bots and I felt the same way in Malawi. I can't wait to find out how my career evolves to include this passion.”

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Penn Medicine Graduation: What’s Next for the Class of 2013?

Yesterday was the Perelman School of Medicine’s graduation at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, and for most of the students that means goodbye medical school and hello residency. So where will the 84 men and 76 women be heading as they embark on the next phase of their lives?

This year, an impressive 39 percent will take on primary care residencies around the country, no doubt helping to fill a critical void the U.S. has suffered in this area.

Internal medicine and pediatrics are popular disciplines again this year. And 26 percent of the graduating class is staying here at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for their residencies. 

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Boston Tragedy Highlights Need to Implement Effective PTSD Therapies

The recent events in Boston remind us how important it is to help people, children and families affected by such tragedies get the most effective mental health treatments out there.

The good news is, over the years, evidence-based therapies (EBT), like prolonged exposure therapy, where patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face the situations, places, and people they have been avoiding, have been shown to successfully ameliorate PTSD severity.  The bad news is, though, the majority of these patients haven’t been getting them. But researchers are trying to change that.

“The recent tragic events will leave a host of lingering health and mental health problems, like PTSD, in its wake,” said Edna B. Foa, PhD, a professor of Clinical Psychology in the department of Psychiatry. “And it highlights how important it is to identify and overcome the barriers to dissemination and implementation of effective treatment, such as prolonged exposure, among mental health providers, so that people affected by such tragedies can benefit from those short-term treatments.”

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Penn Student Policy Group Takes Impactful, Concise Message to DC

Back in December, when the chatter about budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health started getting louder, Penn PhD students Michael Allegrezza and Shaun O’Brien decided it was time to join the conversation and advocate. They wanted to bring that on-the-ground scientist voice into the mix but knew it had to be something their research is not: clear and simple.

“You need to personalize the work so people can relate to it,” says O’Brien, a fifth year Immunology doctoral candidate. “Researchers need to communicate their findings and talk about the impacts… to get people, the taxpayers, to see why biomedical research is so important.”

So the two started the Penn Science Policy Group, a coalition that now has about 90 science graduate and postdoctoral students out there, explaining their science and advocating to restore and even increase funds to the NIH.

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