Math - From High School to Real Life

November 25, 2008
By Eve Sampson, Gainesville, FL

Have you ever been flipping through the channels of your TV, and been almost unknowingly drawn in by a show such as “ER,” or “House,” or “Grey’s Anatomy?” Where the seemingly mind blowing intelligence and nonchalant attitude of the overseeing doctors simply leaves you, head tilted, in awe? How could they possibly remember all of those formulas, numbers, techniques, and tongue-tying names of nearly unheard of diseases and ailments? Well, minus the glamour, scandals, and never ending personal drama, my dad does what those “doctors” on TV do, except the real thing is much more complicated than it might appear. One is required to complete years of studying, mathematics, and medical school in order to be certified in the field of medicine. In relation to math especially, my dad’s occupation is more involved than a non-Medical School graduate would ever know, because in the medical field, as is about to be told, math is thoroughly of great importance. And even though my dad uses math in almost all aspects of his life, it seems like the math he uses in his career is the most important.

Thus, I’ll begin with my dad’s work life. To be very specific, my dad is a pulmonary doctor, which means he specializes in the lungs. To get to that level of expertise, college and Medical school were, of course, a necessity. In Medical School, my dad recalled to me that he was overall prepared, mathematically speaking. He had completed calculus in college, and, being chemistry major, assumed he was finished. However, there were a few things that he mentioned that he had to remember. Upon earning his Medical Degree, I wondered, well, which types of math do doctors even use? My question was definitely answered.

From what I gather, the branch of mathematics that my dad uses depends on the area he is working on. Pulmonology is a sub-specialty of Internal Medicine. Pulmonologists frequently work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) taking care of patients on ventilators. Artificial breathing requires knowledge of the relaxation of gases such as Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Carbon Dioxide, and the acid/bases changes that they cause. There are formulas like the Alveolar-gas equation, which is mostly only algebra, and the Hendersan-Hasselhach equation, which deals with pH and logarithms, to help doctors with the “air” for the patient on the ventilator. When doctors are doing research, however, they heavily use statistics. They use parametric and linear regression statistics, as well as something else called multivariate analysis. My dad is currently working on a study entitled “The Use of Drug Testing in Primary Care,” where every year, he has to report the number of patients involved and also some of the results. Also, when my dad was in “Hospital Administration,” he was obligated to plan budgets and clinics, where he used decimal analysis.

When I asked my dad which type of math he thought was most crucial, he responded in a very interesting way. He told me “Mathematics is like a tool box, and the branches are like the tools. I would not be able to say whether the hammer was more important than the screwdrivers, or the pliers, or the saw. I have learned that the more projects I build, the more tools I need. Over the years I have gotten more skilled at the use of the hammer and other tools I have and appreciation for…”

Some types of math, my dad does, however, use more than others, such as algebra and statistics. He uses math incredibly frequently, for with every patient he sees, there are numbers and lab results (which come in the form of numbers) to be deciphered. Do pulmonologists use different types of math than other doctors? Of course! They use more than some types, but less than others.

If doctors were not adept at mathematics, my dad thinks that we would all most likely have shorter life spans, less healthy lives, and higher mortality rates. But what if a mistake occurred? Well, I realized, for my dad, that the more you do math, the better you become, therefore fewer mistakes happen. In medicine, lab results or calculations are all correlated clinically. Physiologic variation allows doctors to get results without having to be exact. According to my dad, he typically doesn’t make very many errors, and he feels that his math skills are more than sufficient to achieve success in his work.

In my dad’s personal life, like most people, his math skills aren’t used as much. A trip to the grocery store or a ride to the gas station to fill up his tank, are paid for, of course with money, which uses the ability to handle currency. He also plays baseball or football, depending on the season, with my little brothers, which uses and estimation of angles, yardage, and score keeping.

All in all, the amount of mathematics used in just one person’s chosen profession is absolutely astounding. It is amazing that one person has the ability to keep so much in their head, speaking, of course, about numbers and such. My dad has shown me that mathematics is not only important to know to pass the 9th grade, but also to be successful in my career.

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This article has 1 comment.

KarlarSamlam said...
on Dec. 3 2008 at 12:34 am
GREAT!!!! This is simply superb! Needs to be in the magazine for sure!

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