Sunday, December 6, 2009

STEM or Leaf or Something Else?


Over at Terra Sigillata, one of my favorite bloggers, Abel Pharmboy, asked if medicine and allied health fields should be considered STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers. The post and replies got me thinking (a dangerous occurrence), and my reply became too long for the comments. Thus, my own post.

Classifying professions is almost as difficult as classifying ethnicity; self-report is the gold standard.

In my own case, my advanced degree is an MD (even though mentors advised me to figure out a way to get a PhD). So 30% of my professional time is seeing patients; however, I play well with physiologists and study kidney disease in rats. So I would qualify as STEM, in that sense. Some would say that my work is not STEM in the government sense, because my funding source is NIH. I say science is science, whoever funds it. I know MD PIs who have had both NIH and NSF funding; where would they be classified?

If an allied health professional works in a clinical research center, is s/he STEM? The same skill set applies to those who work in purely caregiving settings- so why wouldn’t they be STEM? All have a certain background training in science; is that sufficient to qualify?

Finally, I wish to illustrate some parallels between clinical medicine and science. Healthcare is hypothesis driven, just as science is…

A scientist gets an idea and then

  • Collects background data
  • Develops a hypothesis
  • Experiments
  • Evaluates results of experiments and adjusts hypothesis accordingly

A healthcare provider sees a patient and then

  • Collects background data (history & physical)
  • Develops a differential diagnosis
  • Tests the diagnosis, either through diagnostic tests or through response to treatment
  • Evaluates the results of tests/treatment and adjusts diagnostic possibilities accordingly

There simply is not a firm boundary between healthcare and STEM. I will be interested to see what AbelPharmboy’s  poll shows [at this writing, the poll is in favor of healthcare=STEM, but the commentary is running the other direction]. Frankly I just don’t know that it matters. Except to those wishing to make a statistical point of some sort…

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Very high praise to be considered one of your favorite bloggers. Thank you!

    I had no idea that my simple question on semantics would stimulate so many responses. I think that, in part, it is due to the fact that it is difficult to separate science and the scientific method from much of our everyday life, not just medicine. STEM purists may care to draw the line, as NSF does, at the study of science and technology but not its application.

    However, just look at the kidney: biology, chemistry, mathematics, and most certainly engineering.

    Thanks so much for your comments and this post!