Blind student earns M.D.
April 3, 2005 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Blind student earns M.D. A fascinating article about a guy who overcame innumerable obstacles, not the least of which was people's preconceived notions about what a visually impaired person is capable of. [via linkfilter.]
posted by bicyclingfool (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A fascinating article about a guy who overcame innumerable obstacles, not the least of which was people's preconceived notions about what a visually impaired person is capable of.

well, bicyclingfool, subtracting nothing from the propers due this guy, his accomplishments seem to say very little to me about what the average visually-impaired person can hope to achieve.

i mean this ain't your regular average joe with a white cane we be talking about here....valedictorian of his graduating class at notre dame. (yeah it's notre dame, but still to graduate 1 out of 10,000 has to say something).. only one B in med school... water skiing, musical composition, martial arts... a natural at intubation (a very tricky prodecure often done in high-stress emergency situations.)

c'mon. a guy like this... the blindness might have even given him stronger kung fu.

He's even found time to fall in love; he's engaged to a medical school student.

and i bet his girlfriend is a knockout to boot.
posted by three blind mice at 1:58 PM on April 3, 2005

One of the biggest "preconceived notions" that people with disabilities face is that their lives are filled with "innumerable obstacles" to overcome. Extolling the ability of this guy to get a good education is assuming that people with disabilities are generally incapable of accomplishing this.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:34 PM on April 3, 2005

In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn't something a blind person should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome.

I think that statement is bull -- I don't recall hearing anyone saying such a thing about any "handicapped" person's attempt to do something "normal" or even challenging. What skeptics are "always" saying this?

Kudos to the doc -- I'm usually pretty impressed by anyone who earns an M.D., regardless of unique challenges any given student faces.
posted by davidmsc at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2005

Little about what the average person can hope to achieve? To the contrary, I think he makes it plain that many of us do have the ability to stretch beyond the supposed boundaries.
"I just think that you deal with what you're dealt," he says. "I've just been trying to do the best with what I've got. I don't think that's any different than anybody else."

He also shuns suggestions his IQ leaves his peers in the dust.

"I just work hard and study," he says. "If you're not modest, you're probably overestimating yourself."
The article also makes clear that he excelled in med school not out of some extraordinary genius but simply because he does what many sighted peers fail to do: evaluate a wide variety of cues beyond just visual observation.
"My first reaction was the same as others': How can he possibly see and treat patients?"...

[The nurse] recalls watching him examine a patient with a rash, feel the area, ask the appropriate questions -- and come up with a correct diagnosis....

Dr. Yolanda Becker, assistant professor of surgery who performs transplants, noticed that Cordes had a talent for finding veins. "I tell the students, 'You have to feel them ... you just can't look.' For Tim, that was not an option."...

"He was a breath of fresh air," she says. "He appreciated the fact people took time with him to feel the pulse, feel the grafts, feel where the kidneys are.... He asked very good questions."
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2005

I have to say that, as cool as this is, I'd never personally have a blind doctor as my physician. Some visual information simply can't be replaced with the other senses. (I suppose I might reconsider if, say, he always worked with a sighted doctor by his side.)
posted by kickingtheground at 3:00 PM on April 3, 2005

Interesting article, if a tad on the overzealously glowing side. I'm sure that this guy is brilliant, but it seems to me a disservice to him to start with the assumption that he wouldn't be able to perform in med school and then work from there. There are several points - especially the bit about his guide dog - that seemed to play to the prejudices of the article writer more than the ability of the newly minted doctor. (Snarky paraphrasing : "And he navigated through the hallways as well! Imagine that!")

That said, I think most people would think "Blind doctor? How did he do it?" rather than "Oh yeah, blind doctor. Of course." It's not immediately obvious that someone who can't see can observe surgery, for example, or deliver a baby. I'd like to know more about his intubation setup and other ways that he managed to bypass the usual necessity of seeing what he was doing. Perhaps these setups could be used to help other students, even the ones who can see.

kickingtheground : From what I can tell, he got his MD to work in research, not in practice as a physician. And of course, if he did work in a hospital setting, he'd be working within a team of sighted doctors and nurses.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2005

damn articwoman, that's a bit harsh.

it's not like the article was on a blind-since-7-and-despite-innumerable-obstacles-he-learned-to-tie-his-own-shoes-at-8 level.

but at the same time when you can leap tall buildings with a single bound, your obstacles are bound to be a bit different than everyone elses'.
posted by three blind mice at 3:12 PM on April 3, 2005

<snark>I'll be impressed if he becomes a radiologist.</snark>
posted by dmd at 3:13 PM on April 3, 2005

From what I can tell, he got his MD to work in research, not in practice as a physician.

MD/PhDs tend to spend a portion of their time in clinical practice as well as research. You get a PhD to work in research and an MD to treat patients. From the article, it seems he is considering either psychiatry or internal medicine. I'd certainly be uncomfortable with a blind doctor in most situations, but I'd say a blind psychiatrist would be one of the few I'd accept as a patient.

On preview: I was trying to say something about radiology in an un-snarky way, but it was taking to long.
posted by blendor at 3:21 PM on April 3, 2005

Yo, dmd, read before you snark.
Without sight, Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read EKGs and patient charts, examine slides showing slices of the brain, diagnose rashes -- and more.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types, a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes for patient charts, and a device called an Optacon that has a small camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images. [emphasis added]
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2005

My wife is a doctor, but not in the medical arena...she's a Ph.D. in economics...she had as a professor (in the pre-personal computer era) a blind professor, who was, by all accounts, brilliant (Walter Oi, at Rochester), and difficult. I met my wife to be after she'd studied under him, and she kind of cowered at his thought, so rigorous and demanding he was...but obviously an astonishing does a blind person crunch numbers and digest insanely complex economic theory that most of us couldn't begin to comprehend...the human mind is truly a bizarrely and amazingly beautiful thing.
posted by 1016 at 4:08 PM on April 3, 2005

how does a blind person crunch numbers and digest insanely complex economic theory that most of us couldn't begin to comprehend

Easy. Fewer distractions.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:13 PM on April 3, 2005

ncm: Wow. I hadn't noticed that bit. I am even more tremendously impressed than I was in the first place.

I dated a UPenn med student for a while, and learned quite a bit about the rigors of medical school. Med school is really, really, really hard work even for someone with full use of all senses and who's capable of taking notes in thirty-two colors according to cross-referenced topic.
posted by dmd at 4:14 PM on April 3, 2005

three blind mice: You're right, that was a bit harsh. I'm sorry.

I've been studying the sociology of disability lately and I've just been reading so much "Wow! Look at what that disabled guy did, he's almost like a normal person!" crap, that I guess I jumped the gun on this one. This man has accomplished something pretty special.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:36 PM on April 3, 2005

I have met a blind mechanic and recommend him to most everyone. Stiff competition because he is the best in town.
posted by Viomeda at 5:06 PM on April 3, 2005

the Fark headline was better.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:51 PM on April 3, 2005

Cool and all, but nothing some of us haven't seen before..

I went to University of Illinois for Computer Science and Mathematics, and there was a guy in many of my Computer Science classes with a seeing eye dog. I saw him in at least one of my classes per semester for a good 3 or 4, and I believe he was doing graduate student work. Considering how incredibly visual all the teaching materials were, I'm still wondering to this day how exactly he managed to take in the material, but I suppose that's just because of my reliance on sight - I don't know how I'd figure things out without pretty pictures...
posted by twiggy at 6:02 PM on April 3, 2005

Finally! A doctor who will actually listen to patients!
posted by srboisvert at 7:14 PM on April 3, 2005

three blind mice writes "and i bet his girlfriend is a knockout to boot."

You think the blind doctor was attracted to her because she looked hawt?.
posted by orthogonality at 10:40 PM on April 3, 2005

I'd love to get inside the head of someone like this, if I could. Such a different perspective. My thing is math. I can't imagine doing it without my eyes, even though they are probably pretty ancillary to the subject. I often only really understand somethings when I seem them — data visualization is paramount to me. I think of derivatives in terms of slopes and d/df and integrals in terms of areas and capital summa's.

It would be fascinating to experience how someone that would have to do the thinking so differently would "see" the world.
posted by teece at 11:07 PM on April 3, 2005

I graduated law school with a blind student. She was phenomenal, had the most insightful and witty comments in class. Everything took her three or four times as long as the rest of us - reading cases, assimilating texts, etc. I can't imagine the stress and time this MD went through!
posted by MeetMegan at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2005

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