Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#ILookLikeASurgeon: My Grandmother's Silent Lessons on Life and Wellness

“I come as one. I stand as ten thousand.”
        -Maya Angelou in her poem Our Grandmothers

I am a surgeon. I am proud of this fact partly because I am the first in my family to go to medical school. I am also proud of this fact because I recognize that me becoming a surgeon has been less about me and more of a collective and cumulative effort of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and countless other hard working ancestors, many of whom remain nameless. More than any other, perhaps the one person that would influence my initial decision to become a physician was my grandmother. She would also later influence my decision to become a surgeon. Seeing her sprawled out on her kitchen floor after having a massive heart attack when I was 5 years old would, furthermore, influence my resolution to become that surgeon committed to wellness.
        My grandmother was the center of our family. Growing up in a very traditional and conservative African-American home, I was surrounded by a large, loving, and supportive family. Family gatherings at my grandmother’s home were frequent and sometimes without any specific cause. She was generally in charge of deciding the menu items during these gatherings, many of which she prepared herself. At the time, the food was delicious and filling. In hindsight, it was oftentimes, greasy, fried, and nutritionally sparse. The paradox presented in this is that at the same time, my grandmother had many chronic illnesses. I always knew her to be diabetic and was unfazed watching by her self-administering her insulin injections. I became well-versed in hearing about her “Coumadin levels” or her “heart pills.” I knew she was not well as she had difficulty walking short distances and went to the emergency room on a frequent basis, but at the end of the day, medication was the only lifestyle modification for her problems.
        Growing up in this setting, I wanted to know the “why” of her health problems. I was not satisfied with knowing generic glossed-over answers, but I constantly asked questions, which eventually led to me choosing medicine as a way to learn more and answer those questions. As most of her health problems were chronic, she was on many medications with oftentimes no immediate change. As a surgeon, I would have the ability to make almost a direct change in the patient’s health, which in addition to a love of anatomy and being in the OR, subsequently became a strong incentive to become a surgeon.
        I was fortunate to train at an institution where the hospital embraced the concept of wellness with “eat right” programs and even offered discounted gym memberships. So it was never odd to have a mind towards personal wellness in this setting. I had many attendings that were great examples to me because of their own commitments to eating well and physical fitness. They themselves took time to exercise, spend time with their own families, go to church, and encouraged me to do the same. One attending was known for making climbing the stairs mandatory during rounds! Regrettably, during the early years of my residency, I struggled to find the time and energy to squeeze in exercise and make good food choices. I was at the hospital at 5 and leaving later in the evening. I made poor dietary choices and skipped out of  going to the gym. This compromise resulted in weight gain and continued fatigue. Ultimately, towards the end of my training, I had to make my workouts a top priority. By doing so, I was able to foster the required discipline to train and to successfully complete my first marathon during my chief year.
        Now as an attending surgeon, my commitment to maintain a sense of personal wellness continues to be a longstanding, purposeful, and intentional journey. By this, I remain in a much better position to prevent burnout and not become detached and frustrated with my patients and the care they require. I am able to handle the increasing physical and mental stressors of being a surgeon much better as I continue to recognize the value of exercise and have kept it a part of my routine. I make time to go to church and spend time with my family. Dietary changes have been the most difficult to make and maintain partly because it has required creating a complete turnaround of what I understand about food. The culture in which I grew up was not particularly health conscious, but after seeing the health problems of those I loved, I recognize that pattern was not one to observe and continue.  I have gone through periods of being a vegetarian and even maintained a strict Paleo diet. Ultimately, while not 100% protective, my goal has been to make better dietary choices so that I reduce my risk of having health problems I observed as a child in my family.

        The night that I saw my grandmother in cardiac arrest on the floor of her kitchen was fortunately not the last time I saw her alive. She was able to recover and lived another 20 years. In the end, she was unable to recover after a surgical procedure. At the point of her death, I was no longer a confused 5 year old boy but now surgical resident with a better perspective and understanding on the various factors that contributed to her declining health. I now recognize my life as a surgeon is a composite of the invaluable and mainly unspoken lessons my grandmother taught me about health and wellness of my mind and body, and the personal responsibility to ensure I am continually taking care of them both.

Dr. Cedrek McFadden

Dr. McFadden is a husband, father, colorectal surgeon, mentor, speaker, and believer in health and wellness.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Sharenting" and Social Media: Endangerment or celebration of a global community?

After signing onto Twitter for the first time in 2011, there have been two events that have triggered my absence. The first was the birth of my daughter, Sierra, in 2013, and the second has been the birth of my son, Orion, this past May. Both times I have found caring for a newborn to be all-consuming--swadling, nursing, and bathing the little one left no time for social media. Since the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement, it has been much more difficult being “away” from my social media community. When the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag was born, there was no question that I wanted to post a photo celebrating both surgery residency and motherhood. Some may be surprised to learn it was the first time I posted a photo of Sierra online. Until that moment I had shared very few photos of my personal life online.

After Orion was born, I was eager to celebrate the new addition to our family with my global network of social media friends, yet I found myself hesitating. I questioned the potential dangers of sharing photos of my children on social media. While it is generally accepted that there are “risks” involved in posting photos of one’s children online, I had seen very little in terms of specifics on these risks. Before jumping back into social media, I decided to do my own research in order to make an informed decision when it came to posting photos of my children. Given the popularity of the #SurgParenting hashtag, I thought others might be interested in what I found.

First, I would like to share some statistics on the elephant in the room--the vast majority of children born in the United States today find themselves online from the day they are born. Perhaps earlier, if we count ultrasound photos. Studies show that 92 percent of kids in the United States have an online identity by age 2.[1] On average, parents post nearly 1,000 photos of a child online before the child turns 5.[2] It’s no wonder non-parents can feel they are drowning in “cute” photos of their friends’ children. Why all the posts? According to a 2015 survey by Pew Internet Research, 74% of parents who use social media get support from their friends online.[3] Surgeons appear to be no exception.

Are we “oversharenting”? Oversharing seems to be judged in the eyes of the beholder. A survey by Parents magazine found that 79% of respondents said other parents overshare on social media -- yet only 32% felt that they overshared themselves.[4] Similarly, when asked to judge others, 80% of adults say they’ve seen parents put attempts to get the perfect photo ahead of their child’s enjoyment of an event.[5] While these statistics are striking, I argue it matters more that parents and their children are comfortable with the photos than what others think. For a great post on a parent and child who are both mindful and enthusiastic in their approach to social media, see here.

I had a difficult time finding examples of negative consequences of parents sharing photos of their children. Extensive googling and article skimming revealed only two examples of misappropriation of photos posted online.[6] Many of the dangers cited in articles discussing the cons of photo sharing seem ephemeral. While it’s true that future college admissions committees, employers, loan officers could peruse baby photos of my children someday, I can’t help but wonder why? Predatory behavior from pedophiles is also frequently cited as reason not to post photos of one’s children. However Prof. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, says “this is not the way it happens” and that such dangers are falsely inflated. While it’s true predators seek victims in chat rooms, they do not peruse photos posted by adoring parents.
One study found that 58% of respondents admit posting the perfect picture has prevented them from enjoying life's experience. According to the study’s co-author, Joseph Grenny, “We enjoy important life moments less when we’re focused on capturing them rather than experiencing them.”[7] Does this mean we must put our phones away and forgo sharing the moment with friends and strangers? Not necessarily. Rather than being controlled technology, it can be used to draw us into an experience. A photo can become  memento to treasure and share.
A recent survey of children 10 to 17 found that nearly 1 in 5 wanted control over the information their parents posted about them online.[8]  Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of“The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” and research associate at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, suggests that “Kids should have veto power over the pictures we take and post on social media. We need to teach children the message that we own our body and we own our image and ask questions like, ‘Would you mind me sending it to grandma or grandpa?’”[9]
Photo Credit

Rather than worrying about unrealistic dangers, I recommend three questions to ask yourself when posting photos of children.
  1. What is the purpose of a my post? (For a powerful example of a post with a clear purpose, see here.)
  2. Am I comfortable with this image/information becoming part of my child’s digital footprint?
  3. Would my child approve? And do I have their permission? (If consent is age-appropriate.)
If you are not a parent, and are considering posting a photo of a niece, nephew, or friend’s child, I recommend asking yourself same questions and then checking with their parent for permission.
What are the benefits of posting online photos? Many parents find that virtual sharing allows them to build an online community and connect with other parents. Particularly for parents living away from family, sharing special moments through social media can foster a sense of community and support, providing a network of “friends” they would never have access to otherwise. While children may not directly benefit from this online community, they have a lot to learn from parents who include them in the process. Understanding the magnitude and significance of their digital footprint is a “life skill” that will serve them well as they enter adolescence and beyond.
What did I decide? For me and my family, the benefits of sharing outweigh the risks. While my husband chooses a very limited online presence for himself, he is comfortable with the thoughtful choices I make in posting photos of our children. I hope the snapshots and moments I chose to share make them feel cherished and celebrated. Rather than a detriment, I hope the posts serve as a sort of “virtual memory book” highlighting positive moments of their childhood. As they grow, I will involve them more and more in the process of choosing which photos and moments are appropriate for sharing.
In the meantime, I am excited to share special family snapshots with our global friends and family. I never dreamed I would celebrate my newborn son hiking with a surgeon, @dr_imogen, I met through #ILookLikeASurgeon and now affectionately refer to as his Australian Godmother.

Welcome to the world Orion. #AdventureAwaitsYou

[1] "American Girls - Time." 2016. 28 Jul. 2016 <>
[2] "Read this before posting photos of your kids on Facebook - MarketWatch." 2015. 29 Jul. 2016 <>
[3] "Parents and Social Media | Pew Research Center - Pew Internet ..." 23 Jul. 2016 <>
[4] "How Social Media Is Affecting Your Parenting - Parents." 2015. 23 Jul. 2016 <>
[6] "Guardians of Their Smiles - The New York Times." 2009. 5 Aug. 2016 <>
[7] "Society's New Addiction: Getting a “Like” over Having a Life - Press ..." 2015. 8 Aug. 2016 <>
[9] "Read this before posting photos of your kids on Facebook - MarketWatch." 2015. 4 Aug. 2016 <

Sunday, June 19, 2016

To all the dads who say #ILookLikeASurgeon, Happy Father’s Day!

I’d like to express my gratitude to the male surgeons who have shared the joys and challenges of parenting with me personally as well as with the Twitterverse. I have been touched and inspired by conversations of balancing family and career with both male attendings and residents. For those of us who enjoy #SurgTweeting, I think we have all smiled at the #SurgParenting pics that pass through our Twitter feed.

Synergistic with the role modeling shared through the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement, seeing the #SurgParenting photos of male surgeons integrating career and family life has been inspiring for all genders.

#SurgDads, thank you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#SurgTweeting: Understanding Data Visualizations of Twitter Communities Using #ACSCC15

2015 was an exciting year for Twitter at the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons. The #ACSCC15 selfie contest catapulted off the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement with vigor. The contest drew in a plethora of Twitter neophytes who posted their first tweets at the Congress, leaping into #SurgTweeting.
According to Twitter data analytics from Symplur, #ACSCC15 had record Twitter participation with over 50 million impressions, 14,000 tweets and over 2,500 participants. Statistics, however, only tell part of the story; they do not reveal the interactions and interconnections of those who tweeted. In other words, they reveal little about the network. To illustrate these connections, Twitter data can be organized graphically into interactive network visualizations.
Using Twitter’s API, I (Mookie Thayer, of @PresentServices) built interactive data visualizations for #ACSCC14 and #ACSCC15. These visualizations were created using the mentions, favorites and retweets of all tweets that included the conference hashtags. The #ACSCC14 network visualization of mentions and retweets can be viewed below.
The dots or “nodes” represent Twitter users such as @AmCollSurgeons and @WomenSurgeons. Hovering over a node reveals the username. Connecting lines represent interactions such as a mention, favorite, or retweet. The colors highlight “communities” or “conversations” revealing sub-networks within the overall conference dialogue. Clicking on a node highlights the network of the selected user, allowing you to view the individual user’s impact and participation in the overall network. Being able to visualize the network of an individual user serves as a proxy for their influence within the Twitter community. For example, click on the pink node in the bottom right; you will see the sub-community of @heatherevansmd. Notice the multiple nodes connected only to her. Those are her colleagues back at home, participating in #ACSCC14 through Dr. Evans.
#ACSCC15 – Massive growth of conversations and users

To establish the data set, I imported all the tweets that contained a “mention” (i.e. @name), those that had been favorited or “liked”, and all retweets. The initial visualization of this much larger group of tweets from #ACSCC14 looks like an explosion of connected points. To make it more legible, I then limited the data points to nodes of users with 10 or more mentions/favorites/retweets.
10_degree_nodesMultiple algorithms were used to determine data points of interest. For example, the “Degree Distribution Average” (i.e., the average number of connections to each node) was a bit over 4 Twitter users per community, but only the top 10 communities are color-coded.
The “communities” were determined by calculating the modularity of the tweets and colorizing those users whose tweets demonstrated intense modularity. Modularity is a measure of the strength of division of a network into modules (also called groups, clusters or communities); in this case the modularity increases with increased strength of interactions as measured by retweets, replies, and favorites.
Once the nodes were colorized based on their communities, the nodes (i.e. users) were weighted based on volume of mentions, retweets, and favorites.
Finally the visualization was manipulated for clarity by expanding the spacing, adding and removing gravity from the weighted objects, adjusting alignment, and labeling.
This non-interactive version is 1080p with a black background. Download it to zoom in to see all those users and connections!
1080p – High-res version of #ACSCC15 Twitter user network.
Zoomed in Screenshot
The last step is to take the data and make it more interactive, enabling the user to view the network as a whole as well as to break down each user’s network. (The programming involved in this is beyond the scope of this blog.)
#ACSCC15 – Twitter User Network Data Visualization
Click here for the interactive version of #ACSCC15
What changes do you see between 2014 and 2015? Look at the number of followers many of the users picked up over time. Who were the major Twitter influencers at the conference each year? What surprises came out of the visualizations?
Similar visualizations will be created for the 2016 Academic Surgical Congress. Follow @presentservices for future visualizations of the #ASC2016 Twitter communities.  You can discuss and ask questions in our comments section, or you can always tweet me.
I’d also like to thank Heather Logghe and Christian Jones for helping me co-author and explain the data for this project.
– Matt “Mookie” Thayer – @presentservices