Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dr. Orthochick: Algebra

I was heading out last night so I decided to do some quick postop rounds before i left and make sure no one had a compartment syndrome or something. The nurse told me one of my patients wanted to see me, so I figured he had some questions about the surgery since it was a 4 hour reconstruction of the foot and ankle. I went in an his wife and son were in there.

Me: Hi! [The nurse] said you wanted to talk to me?
Son: Yeah. What's (a+b)^2?
Me: (a^2)+2ab+(b^2)
Wife: See!? I told you she would know that! She's a doctor!
Son: S***. I really thought she was going to say (a+b)^2.

And that's the second time this year I've used math on the job.

Apparently the wife and son were having some sort of lively debate on how useful Algebra 2 was exactly and whether or not you actually needed it in daily life. Not sure how I got dragged into this one, but for the record, yes, I passed algebra 2 back in the day. Haven't used it since, but I did do pretty good in it junior year of high school, if I recall correctly. So I'm going to side with the son that no, I do not need it in my daily life, but I guess I wound up supporting the wife's argument because she figured if I remembered it, I must use it.

(I don't. Every now and then I need to add things, the forms in clinic only give you the patient's date of birth and not age so I need to subtract on a regular basis, I've done some multiplication for things like prescriptions...but I don't even remember the last time I divided two numbers.)


  1. There is always this debate going on, if we should make kids take Algebra and Trig and such, because they won't use it later in life. My husband is a math major, soon to be dental school grad, and this drives him crazy. Yes, you might not use the exact formulas, but learning math teaches critical thinking and builds a foundation to understand other important fields (physics, chemistry, etc.)

    We're huge supports of math education in our family. Even though I haven't to do a differential equation since undergrad.

    1. You're doing your kids a huge favor by encouraging them to learn and use math. Math, especially algebra and geometry, is everywhere. I haven't formally used calculus since I took physical chemistry in college, but I do regularly use the concept of integrals (e.g., in evaluating nerve conduction wave forms or data presentation). I frequently need to calculate for 'x' for a wide range of purposes. Need to understand percentages and ratios to make solutions for injection or to modify recipe yield. If I had any ability to build something I would probably need geometry.

      Kids who don't learn math are at a tremendous disadvantage both academically and in daily life. Not only will they fail or struggle in chemistry/physics (or never enroll) they won't be able to understand the impact of credit card and loan interest rates. Algebra was also pivotal in reigning in my disorganized/multi-track mind to allow me to understand formal logic and use it informally in daily life. As a result, I think my life is a lot easier than it could have been.

    2. I agree with you two. Math can be hard and not very fun. But even as a young person math has helped me already. I may not have a job (learning is my job at the moment) but of course I use math everyday. And challenging yourself in math really does help to sharpen the brain.

      Basic Arithmetic is a necessity for everyday life, and I've come to understand that Algebra and Geometry is important to learn also.
      So kids should definitely learn and use math. Yes, it can be hard but the benefits are worth it!

  2. I recently had a doctor give me a prophylactic cephalexin prescription. He said he was giving me a 5 day supply. When I picked it up, it was 28 pills to be taken 4 times a day. Clearly even multiplication and division are optional in some medical fields. ;)

  3. I used algebra yesterday to derive the Fick, and today I used it to calculate how much IV medication I was giving my patient. But... I'm in anesthesia, not ortho.

  4. Yes Lord!! I took a lot of math. I can think critically. I know a number of doctors who were not physics/math/chemistry/ type majors that can't. No disrespect but I saw some of the medical schools don't even require calculus. (I almost died on hearing that.) Medical school is a lot of facts but you need to think critically past just memorizing a bunch of MUDPILES acronyms to really apply what you learned.

  5. In my pediatric world this has come up more often than you would think. Especially with our heme/onc and pulm (cystic fibrosis) teen patients that can be in house for weeks at time. Parents assume that the senior resident means not only doing their meds but also helping with algebra and biology questions.