Medicine, roots and sunshine

Earlier this week, I had the honor of attending the 127th annual meeting of the American Clinical and Climatological Association in Tucson, Arizona as a new member. This organization was founded by a group of leading physicians who were interested in advancing patient care with a particular focus on the impact of climate on health (hence the name of the organization). Much of their effort was geared towards tuberculosis which was a scourge of the times and was treated at the time by placing patients in sanatoria where they could be exposed to fresh air and sunshine.

The “Climatological” – as it is known for short – has survived and thrived through the years despite the incredible changes that have taken place in science, medicine and society. My impression is that the organization has survived precisely because it has stuck to its roots, which are grounded in an interest of its members in the intersection of science, medicine and society. As most medical societies have become more and more subspecialized and technically focused, the Climatological has resisted this trend, and has members who share an appreciation for the privilege and humanity that comes with being a leading academic physician.

The organization is of relatively small size and there is a sense of comradery among its members even though they represent a broad variety of medical specialties. All new members (including me) are required to give a talk. These new member talks, as well as keynote talks from established members, covered an incredible range of topics including the molecular and cellular basis of disease, new approaches to therapy, oak trees, the blues, gulf war syndrome, the politics of Ebola, how gender issues impact on promotion within academic medicine, and the history of “heliotherapy” (treatment with sunlight). The latter was particularly appropriate given that the meeting was held in Tucson. Each talk was short, and followed by a robust yet cordial and illuminating question and answer session.

While climatological approaches to disease such as heliotherapy are not as prominent as they were in late 1800s when the society was founded, I am confident the founders of the Climatological would be pleased that the spirit of their organization has remained unchanged. Sunshine, in the form of open discussion of new ideas, and roots based on a common interest of its members in the intersection of science, medicine and society, have sustained not only this organization but the medical profession in general, and I am honored to be part of the tradition.