Yearly Archives: 2018

Genotype-directed lung cancer: a new frontier for bronchoscopists

(Photo downloaded from

As we quickly approach 2019, I am thinking about what is new and exciting in the field of interventional pulmonology. Among energizing advances, one of the most exciting is how individualized genotype-directed therapy is changing our approach to lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

Fueled by research performed in the United States and Europe, increasing numbers of cancer treatment protocols include targeted therapy. These produce less collateral damage than traditional chemotherapy, with survival benefits that are often better than those of protocols implemented without concerns for tumor genetics. According to some Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium data, for example, patients who received driver mutation targeted therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibitors had a median survival of 3.5 years as compared to 2.4 years for those who did not receive such treatment ( 

Not surprisingly, targeted therapy is also a major focus for Chinese physicians and cancer researchers. In part, this is because China has forty percent of the world’s cancer population. According to last year’s National Cancer Center data, survival figures for Chinese patients with advanced lung cancer were many percentage points below those of Western nations. A principal focus for the Chinese in coming years is to significantly increase survival ranges for patients with cancer, including for those with lung cancer.

Unhampered by strict regulations that delay its use in the United States, China is forging ahead with CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing trials. CRISPR/Cas9, originally created by biochemists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It refers to palindromes, or repeating patterns of DNA that are found in most single-celled organisms and many bacteria. CRISPR/Cas9 technology is used to essentially “cut and paste” DNA sequences. Cancer researchers use CRISPR technology to study, replace, or repair the genetic code of tumors, which includes work on genetic drivers responsible for tumorigenesis, metastasis, and drug susceptibility.

Lung cancer management today requires in-depth understanding of gene mutation and genetic engineering. This new frontier is  both challenging and invigorating for bronchoscopists and interventional pulmonologists who are increasingly called upon to make diagnoses and provide tissue samples that help guide therapy. 

Because many patients with primary or metastatic lung cancer have central airway obstruction, specialists are also called upon to perform minimally invasive therapeutic procedures in these patients. This makes a recent article published in the November issue of The Journal of Thoracic Oncology all the more relevant (A. Mohan, K. Harris, MR Bowling et al., In this review paper, the authors reflect on the eventual merging of bronchoscopic ablative strategies with genotype-directed therapies in the name of what is known as precision medicine (defined as an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person). Reflecting on how these therapies might interact, the authors conclude that, “ground breaking advances in our understanding of driver mutations of lung cancer and in the technology available for bronchoscopic ablation have completely changed the landscape of advanced lung cancer management.”  

As a result of this changing landscape, bronchoscopists and interventional pulmonologists have an opportunity to assume leading roles on their multidisciplinary lung cancer management teams. Taking on leadership responsibilities, however, means rethinking one’s education and training. In addition to acquiring procedural expertise and medical knowledge, there is a need to study team-building, communication, medical decision-making, and business administration. These topics should be incorporated into the agendas of national conferences and training workshops.

Those with an eye on the future will also pursue postgraduate education in molecular biology and genetic engineering. More exposure to these topics must also become a priority for our international and national medical societies. Only thus can we effectively equip a new generation of physician-scientists with the knowledge, skill and extrinsic motivation needed to expand the exciting new frontiers set forth by today’s researchers in medicine, biological sciences, and industrial biotechnology.

Altruism: a foundational trait of a new generation of bronchoscopy educators

(Photo downloaded from

Altruism is often defined as the belief and practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. Generally, medical ethicists agree that medical doctors cannot be altruistic in their daily encounters with patients because they act within a professional relationship that entails the obligation to relieve suffering and care for their patients. While I personally agree with this position, I do not believe it applies to the new generation of medical educators. 

For example, a few weeks ago I conducted a Train-the-Trainers course in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With participants from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile, it was refreshing and promoted enthusiasm. None of the participants were required to be there; all are successful bronchoscopy educators in their thirties and forties with busy careers and family lives. Yet, they volunteered their time and energy to enhance their knowledge about teaching and to experiment with techniques and educational systems well outside their comfort zones.

Some might say that participating in such professional training is not so much a sign of the participant’s altruistic nature as it is simply a means for professional development and continued medical education. But most presumptive bronchoscopy educators are not paid for their teaching services, nor are they thanked by their institutions for taking on such important work. No one mandates that bronchoscopy educators become better teachers. In fact, in most countries, much of our medical education consists in a “see one-do one-teach one” mode of on-the-job training without ever teaching teachers how to teach. After all, teaching others has been a natural obligation of medical professionals since the Hippocratic Oath. 

For a “caring profession,” however, “the see one-do one-teach one” educational model is not particularly caring. Other uncaring behaviors practiced in the name of education include learning to perform procedures by using live animals, glorifying  the physical and emotional abuse associated with long work hours and sleepless nights on-call, overt sexism in the workplace, and the predomination of patriarchal dominance practiced for centuries.

The educational model emphasized in our Train-the-Trainer programs, on the other-hand, promotes team-building, self-reflection and repeated opportunities for positive feedback and reinforcement. Learning to optimize situational “teaching opportunities” separates education from clinical service. Targeted practice using simulation scenarios spares patients from the victimization that results from doctors climbing the learning curve one patient at a time.

For a new generation of educators such as those who came to our program in Argentina, embarking on such a novel voyage of exploration is altruistic because the benefits of helping others come at a cost to oneself. Well-engrained institutional biases and personal resistances must be overcome. New techniques must be learned and eventually mastered before teachers become comfortable incorporating changes into their practices. This journey also requires a questioning of the self, and provides an opportunity for personal-growth and self-actualization that goes beyond what is taught or experienced as part of a medical practice. Ultimately, this prompts an irreversible shift in philosophy by which educators take ownership of the new methodologies and forge them into a new paradigm; a paradigm whereby patients do not suffer the burden of physician-related training.

Is there a “culture” of bronchoscopy?

(Photo from The Mindful Art of Thich Nhat Hahn)

In the early 19th century German philosophers and social scientists sought to define the word “culture” in their studies of human behavior and history. Influenced by the Romanticist concept of Volksgeist (spirit of a people), they proposed that culture described the values, ideals, and higher qualities, i.e. intellectual, artistic, and moral, of a society. Anthropologists have since argued about narrowing or broadening this definition, yet most agree that culture, at the very least is defined by values, norms, and modes of thinking that are considered important and  passed down from generation to generation.

During the past forty years, I have been fortunate to practice medicine or teach in dozens of countries and in diverse medical environments. This experience prompts me to conclude there is indeed a “culture” of bronchoscopy and interventional pulmonology. 

This specialty differs from others because we are often with patients from their diagnoses to their deaths. In some countries, we may be asked to prolong life using palliative procedures, then later to take life by honoring a request for physician-assisted suicide. The instant gratification resulting from a treat and release form of patient encounters is rare, and better describes the professional satisfactions of an orthopedic surgeon or ophthalmologist. 

Bronchologists, on the other hand, spend their days delivering news of a terminal process or describing the spread of a potentially fatal disease. Minimally invasive procedures, while offered to reduce suffering and prolong life, are often performed without a chance for cure. 

We live in operating theaters, bronchoscopy suites, and intensive care units. We handle emergencies both night and day, and our expertise and scope of practice usually mean the difference between life and death for patients with few other options. We learn empathy, understanding, patience, and tolerance. Even when our ethics come into question; knowing, for example, that institutional biases favor surgical explorations of the mediastinum instead of EBUS-guided TBNA, our goals, for the most part, are to serve patients and to relieve suffering.

Furthermore, we believe in the effectiveness of palliative procedures to prolong and improve quality of life. We value honesty and warmth in our physician-patient relationships. We advocate for patients and speak truth to power in our demands for better equipment from medical institutions. We seek competency through education; hands-on training using models, observerships in centers of excellence, mentorship, and attendance at medical conferences. 

These core values, beliefs, and behaviors are being passed from the generation that created the specialty since the 1970s, to a younger group of enthusiastic doctors who continue their practice with this same spirit. 

The answer is a resounding yes. There IS a “culture” of bronchoscopy.


Penitentes, (summit of Kilimanjaro. Photo H. Colt)

The name “penitente” is defined as both a noun (a person who repents their wrongdoings and seeks forgiveness) and an adjective (a feeling or showing of sorrow and regret for having done wrong). The origin is Spanish, and the description in the mountains arose because a field of penitentes looks like a procession of monks in white robes.  These snow and ice formations range from one to six meters high, occurring at high altitude on glaciers and snow fields, requiring sunlight, and cold dry weather for their formation.

Everyone makes mistakes, including doctors, but not everyone feels bad about it afterwards. Or perhaps such a blanket statement is untrue about medical professionals? These thoughts were on my mind as I was climbing Kilimanjaro and some of the higher African peaks a couple months ago. Among other things, I tried to recall the names of patients and the circumstances during which my performance could have been better; where mistakes could have been avoided, and where results from therapeutic curative or palliative procedures might have been improved.

Most medical practices and teaching institutions do not readily offer counseling or guidance in case of medical error. Focus is almost entirely on the potential or real legal aspects of an incident. Some departments do stress quality control and rapid remedial response in case of sentinel incidents. Repeated procedural practice using simulators and models is not widespread, however, and nonjudgmental professionally-led forums for repentant health care providers are not actively promoted for trainees, faculty, or physicians-in-practice.

Think about it. When was the last time you initiated serious conversation with a colleague or sought consultation with a medical professional to discuss one of your medical errors? Did you discuss the facts, procedural outcomes, and technical solutions? Did the conversation mostly involve that part of your cognitive brain, or were you also able to honestly and openly discuss your feelings (guilt, remorse, anger, or regret). If you are a teacher or mentor, how often do you include a query about feelings, thoughts and emotions when you discuss accident prevention, complications, or medical procedural errors? How often do you make such discussions part of a regularly scheduled debriefing session?

And if the answer is not often, pray tell, why not?


“The whole point of life is this moment.”

The author of this simple statement is Alan Watts, who, in one of his many philosophical ponderings about life and death, argues that dying, which happens to you once, should be a great event.1

Watts passed away in his sleep on November 15, 1973. He was 58 years old. An inspiring thinker most known for his popularization of Zen Buddhism and his efforts to reconcile Eastern philosophies with a Western way of life, Watts was also a man of contradictions. He was endeared to all that life could offer, but in addition to being a foremost theologian and interpreter of Eastern religions, he was addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, married three times and, despite efforts to let go of his ego, incredibly adept at self-promotion.

I was a twenty-year-old college student when I discovered Watts’ writings, only three years after his death. I quickly devoured several of his books, starting with his first, The Spirit of Zen, which he wrote when he too was only twenty. From then on, I plunged into the study of Eastern religious and philosophical texts; an arduous task while simultaneously working a night job after school, struggling to learn scientific concepts for class, and nomadically exploring psychology and the intricate writings of Wilhelm Reich, Melanie Klein, Carl Jung and other thinkers.

Many years later, I was doing what many interventional pulmonologists must often do: informing patients of their terminal illness, and interceding with palliative procedures that prolong life without the hope or expectation of cure. Many patients and their families engaged me in conversations about death and dying, God, religion, and the meaning of life. My experience in these discussions reached into the hundreds. I gratefully acknowledged the privilege given me to address these issues in part because of my profession, but also because of my availability to discuss such matters, and most of all because of the special place my patients were offering me in their lives at that particular difficult moment.

What amazed me then, and troubles me now is how little most physicians are prepared, whether during medical school or afterwards, for conversations about such things. Some might say we have no business embarking on such discussions with our patients, while others say that to refuse when asked condemns us to abandon our humanity. This is an interesting debate that warrants our consideration.

Not all interventional pulmonologists, of course, should feel inclined to participate in this aspect of our profession. Certainly, the ability to converse with patients about life and death from a position that is neither therapist nor theologian, but that of a trusted friend and treating physician should not be taken lightly. And, unlike our ability to empathetically communicate bad news or ethically obtain informed consent, participation in such exchanges does not necessarily warrant a particular demonstration of skill within the context of a defined competency. When these occasions arise, however, as they may because of the very nature of our medical practices, we should be able to address at least some issues by referring to knowledge that results from more than our personal perspectives and individual biases. This may simply mean becoming aware of the value of referral to a specialist in such matters.

I am hopeful for the day when our specialty will grant weight to this subject in our national and international conferences and training programs. Whether from experience or specialty training, I am sure we have in our ranks many individuals who can help educate others. At the very least, an open discussion of these matters will provide insight for those inclined to embark in a discourse about death and dying.

Alan Watts spent much of his life thinking about what it means to live. For those of us who aspire to be healers, our ability to provide guidance and comfort for living in the now may all too often be the most we have to offer.

1 From Psychotherapy and Eastern Religion, in The Essential Alan Watts (Posthumous publication), Celestial Arts, Berkeley CA, 1977.

A new generation of AABIP Fellows cast an aura of confidence and enthusiasm

AABIP Fellows in Denver, 2018 (photo H. Colt).

This summer I had the honor of lecturing at the inaugural American Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology International conference in Denver, Colorado. Watching newly certified Interventional Fellows don their robes to stand among their colleagues made my heart swell with pride. I recalled the moment when almost thirty years ago, I sat with a dozen or so others around a conference table creating The American Association for Bronchology under the leadership of Professor Udaya BS Prakash.

Only a few years later, while finishing my term as President of the Association, I wrote an editorial for the Journal of Bronchology, stating “we must continue encouraging the next generation of bronchoscopists and interventional pulmonologists to move in new directions…to explore the world of virtual reality and computer simulation; to participate in and develop dedicated training and competency programs; to devote energies to end-of-life issues, ethics, and palliative care; to enhance early lung cancer detection studies and techniques; to discover applications of molecular biology and endobronchial or intrapleural gene therapies; to design collaborative bronchoscopic and radiographic imaging protocols; and to commit their genius to developing novel and unique instruments and techniques for the benefit of our patients (Journal of Bronchology: October 2001 – Volume 8 – Issue 4 – p 253)”.

Needless to say, the AABIP has come a long way toward accomplishing those goals. It’s proactive board of directors, a growing membership, training and certification process, and an excellent peer-reviewed Index Medicus journal provide examples of leadership, scientific endeavor, education, and medical excellence that can be emulated by other medical societies around the world. Furthermore, the AABIP’s participation in the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology (most recently, the World Congress was held for the second time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN, USA) was crucial to the growth and acceptance of a WABIP world vision that promotes uniformity of knowledge, transparency, and contribution regardless of one’s place of practice.

What impressed me most during the AABIP conference in Denver, in addition to the professionalism and “let’s get it done” optimism of the association’s board of directors (led by President Ali Musani and President-elect George Eapen), was the enthusiasm of the organization’s more junior members. Their desires to enhance their skills as educators by participating in future train-the-trainer programs, to assist members of foreign bronchology organizations improve services to patients abroad, and to achieve and maintain excellence for managing a wide range of lung, airway and pleural disorders are inspiring.

I left the conference with a warm sense of belonging, grateful that the AABIP had fulfilled many of its promises to patients and to a previous generation of bronchologists and interventional pulmonologists. The future is obviously full of new challenges, and patient expectations are higher perhaps than ever before, but from what I experienced in Denver, I know the younger generation of AABIP members will address these with knowledge, skill, enthusiasm and their own sense of destiny.

A promising future for patients suffering from lung and airway diseases in Nepal

The Everest massif, the Khumbu glacier, and other towering giants seen from the summit of 6000 meters+ Lobuche peak (photo H. Colt).

At 11:56, April 25, 2015 Nepal was shaken by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that resulted in almost 10,000 deaths, left 3.5 million people homeless, and caused an estimated10 billion dollars total damage (about half of the country’s GDP). Seventeen days later, the death toll continued to rise as a magnitude 7.3 aftershock (followed by more than 400 additional, albeit smaller aftershocks) struck regions only a few miles east of Kathmandu. Meanwhile, in the famous Khumbu icefall, and particularly at Everest base camp (EBC), the April disaster prompted a massive avalanche, rockfall, and an air blast that flattened part of the camp, killing 15 people and injuring more than 70 others.

In addition to 3 doctors and 1 medical assistant in residence at the Himalayan Rescue Association’s Everest Base Camp Clinic, known by climbers the world over as the Everest ER, there were also about 10 doctors from various specialties present with Everest climbing expeditions or trekking groups. The hurricane-force winds caused by pulverizing ice and the avalanche from 1000 meters above the camp destroyed the medical tent and most supplies. Communications with the outside world was limited, and emergency transports using private or military helicopters were initially impossible because of weather.

Throughout the country, including at EBC, volunteers and health professionals worked together using limited resources, but without a previously elaborated disaster relief plan. From Kathmandu, and near the epicenter of the earthquake, doctors from the newly formed Nepal College of Chest Physicians (NCCP…no affiliation or connection with the ACCP of the United States) brought medicines, bandages, and much needed emergency medical care to disaster-stricken communities of thousands. An emphasis on humanitarian aid continued to dominate the activities of the slowly growing NCCP during the next years, but this month, Dr. Sangit Kasaju, founding member and President of the NCCP, with other Nepalese leaders began the challenging task of creating physician councils (Asthma, COPD, Pediatric Pulmonology) and the Nepalese Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology (NABIP) within the auspices of the NCCP. This NCCP’s very first national meeting was held in Kathmandu on October 26, 2018.

It so happened that I was mountain climbing in the Himalayas last month, so it was with great pleasure, but with some degree of apprehension because weather in the mountains often causes flight delays between Lukla (2860 meters) and the capital city, that I was able to shorten my trip by a few days in order to return to Kathmandu and assist the NCCP with their very first meeting. The program was terrific (there will be a descriptive article in a future WABIP newsletter), the enthusiasm contagious, and promises from conference sponsors including eaders of the major pharmaceutical company Cipla, Serolab, Sanofi Pharmaceuticals and others in support of future NCCP events most encouraging.

After the conference, Sangit and I got into a 4-wheel drive truck and drove several hours along winding dirt roads through valleys and hills to the village of Jalbire, close to the earthquake’s epicenter. It was wonderful to see how many homes had been rebuilt in the three years since the disaster. A conversation with farmers as well as with a young doctor at the government medical clinic there revealed a persistent need for medical assistance (for example, there are no electrocardiographic capabilities), healthcare-related education, and trauma services. Many villagers immediately recognized Sangit, who enthusiastically promised that the NCCP would continue to come regularly to the village to provide villagers with medications, instruction about lung health, general hygiene, and spirometry services. The future is promising!

The Power of Numbers

For the past few years I have encouraged national and regional bronchoscopy associations to purchase airway simulation models in order to replace on-the-job training using patients. Surprisingly, progress in this endeavor has been discouragingly slow. Apparently, agents of change (i.e. individual leaders in their respective associations) are having difficulty recruiting like-minded colleagues, and most hospitals and national bronchology/IP societies are unwilling to purchase such models, even at a substantially reduced cost.

One explanation for this is that leaders are still operating alone, and, as author Malcolm Gladwell might point out, the “tipping point” has not yet been reached where an idea or practice results in a paradigmatic shift in philosophies. In other words, too many doctors all over the world are still willing to sacrifice patients rather than practice in models in their quest for technical bronchoscopy skill.

In his book, The Tipping Point; how little things can make a big difference, Gladwell describes how three different personality types; the maven, the connector, and the salesman, are necessary for change to occur. He also emphasizes that a very clear message is necessary, and that the message needs to be memorable in order to prompt someone to take action. Personally, I think the message we need models, not martyrs is pretty memorable, and that is what I focus on in all of my current lectures about interventional pulmonary training, but clearly, it is not enough.

Gladwell also talks about something he calls the stickiness factor; suggesting that “if you want to bring about a fundamental change in people’s beliefs and behaviors, you need to create a community around the idea, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.” Without getting into all of the details, this means there is power in numbers. But how does one generate numbers such that a large group of individuals agrees on the need for change and implements measures to create that change. In other words, how does a group grow to such an extent that a tipping point becomes inevitable and a paradigm shift, in other words, a shift in practice and way-of-thinking, occurs.

In mathematics, exponential growth is defined as an increase in number at a constantly growing rate. Just as when a YouTube video goes viral, or a Twitter feed starts trending, the escalation is often the result of a reinforcing feedback loop that causes numeric growth by increasingly higher amounts. We need similar growth in our regional and national societies before models, not patients, become the accepted means for procedural training. Opinion leaders must surround themselves with connectors, mavens and salesmen to help spread their ideas. Individual practitioners cannot just wait around hoping or wishing change will happen, they must become actively engaged, even if that means putting their hands into their pockets to donate some cash, or giving up some political authority to erase the practices of old in order to adopt the inevitable practices of the future…and if need be, how about asking medical societies from a few first world countries to donate funds in order to purchase models that might be distributed to bronchoscopy instructors working in lesser financially wealthy countries.

How about it?




Inhalation injury and the interventional pulmonologist


Photo courtesy HG Colt

The disastrous fires in Greece have claimed 91 lives, and the current heat wave threatening Europe has placed environmental authorities and firefighters on high alert. Here in the United States, in my home state of California, 18 fires are still burning. Seven civilians and 4 firefighters have already been killed as the fires continue to destroy more than 100,000 hectares of public and private property. Thousands of people are being evacuated, and Yosemite National Park has been closed.

This reminds of the importance of disease-specific training for interventional pulmonologists particularly in the area of burn injuries. Perusing the scientific programs and workshop agendas of several regional and world congresses, however, I noted a paucity if not total absence of lectures or simulation workshops in this area. I think it is crucial that we remedy this gap in our educational process.

Advances in management protocols for burn victims has had significant beneficial effects in recent years, causing a reduction in mortality from burn shock and wound sepsis, such that inhalation injury is now the leading cause for death in burn victims. Inhalation injury is described as damage to the respiratory tract caused by smoke, chemical, particle substances, gases, heat and other irritants. The severity of injury is related to type of irritant, level and duration of exposure, and quality/speed of therapeutic intervention. Most experts agree that the presence of inhalation injury increases burn mortality by at least 20 percent, and predisposes patients to risks of pneumonia, respiratory failure, and prolonged obstructive or reactive airways disease.

My goal today, however, is not to provide readers with an overview of inhalation injury. For this, many excellent scientific studies and review papers are available and easily downloadable from the internet. Rather, I want to briefly address how and why we might alter our educational programs so that training in the recognition and management of patients with inhalation injury becomes commonplace in our congresses, workshops, and training centers.

Inhalation injury is an excellent model for training in how to deliver multidisciplinary care, in part because it requires expertise in four major aspects of medical interventions. These include communication (with other physicians, surgeons, nurses, first responders, respiratory therapists, patients, and family members), delivery of bad news (such as diagnosis, prognosis, need for critical care hospitalization, long-term care, and end-of-life issues), technical skills (including flexible bronchoscopy, difficult intubation, recognition of airway injury, therapeutic maneuvers such as removal of soot and debris, vocal cord and laryngeal evaluations, emergency tracheotomy, bronchoscopic assessment prior to extubation), respiratory care (critical care consultation, respiratory failure, bronchospasm, laryngospasm, foreign body aspiration and removal, mechanical ventilation, barotrauma, pneumonia, resuscitation), and disaster management (triage, crisis management, teamwork, leadership in critical situations, and organizational/systems/human error analysis).

Numerous components of these four aspects of medical care are not routinely covered during medical training or later in-practice. In fact, I have seen from my own involvement working with physicians around the world, that doctors other than trauma surgeons, emergency-room physicians and burn specialists are exposed to only some of the elements of these aspects of care during infrequent on-the-job exposures during crisis situations.

Inhalation injury, therefore, could serve as an excellent model for the construct of a multidisciplinary, simulation/lecture/workshop-based curriculum that will not only help interventional pulmonologists acquire and maintain new skills and knowledge, but will also help them become more active and dependable members of the multidisciplinary team required to assure the health and well-being of burn and inhalation injury victims around the world.

If you are interested in helping me develop such a program (some of these issues are already being addressed in The Essential Intensivist Bronchoscopist©, available on Amazon and Kindle), please contact me or other faculty of Bronchoscopy International® (



Trust is usually defined as a willingness to rely on the actions of another party. In this sense, it is a behavior more than it is an idea. Trust can also spring from a choice to care for another person, even at one’s own expense. Rock climbing, in my opinion, illustrates trust in its most simple and straightforward manner because sharing a rope while suspended hundreds of feet off the ground constantly puts two lives in danger; both leader and follower, decision-maker and passive participant. Errors are unforgiving and often deadly, and for this reason are virtually intolerable, for even a sentinel event can jeopardize a partnership or one’s life.

The famous marriage counselor and clinical psychologist, John Gottman, says that while trust is a major building block for a successful relationship, the reality is that trust is built slowly over time. Whether in marriages, professional partnerships, friendships or collegial acquaintances, trust requires consideration and empathy for one another’s feelings. A foundation of trust is necessary because eventually all relationships must face the crisis of a betrayal.

Usually, Gottman says, betrayals accumulate little by little, although other times they occur like a sudden splash in what might otherwise have been a calm sea. They may be real or simply perceived, but like all moments of crisis, they provide an opportunity to either rethink the boundaries of a relationship or build more trust.

In rock climbing, clear communication and mutually observable demonstrations of competency are reassuring and reliable indicators of growing trust. In medicine too, a doctor’s ability to clearly communicate with patients and team, as well as clearly demonstrate competency, quality of care, and focus on a patient’s needs help elicit trust. At the same time, doctors, health care administrators, social activists, and politicians must engage in systems-based analyses that assure the application of scientifically-proven therapies and efficacy-based innovative new technologies.

In the field of interventional pulmonology, it is tempting to believe that everything we do is in the best interests of our patients. In fact, our patients “trust” us to do so. Yet, vast sums of money, as well as patient and family suffering, may be expended in what ultimately becomes futile care. There is little oversight of physician decisions in these cases, and the emotional costs on medical providers, patients, and families are poorly documented. Professor George Lundberg, a former editor of JAMA and CEO of WebMD said that “futile care” was a contradiction in terms, and what was needed most in defined situations was “attentive care” from physicians capable of listening to their patients. Sadly, training in this domain is usually lacking from our medical conferences that focus on the use of technology and complex procedures used to diagnose and treat patients with lung, airway, and pleural disorders.

If we are to maintain the trust of colleagues, patients, families, and institutional leaders I propose that we work more purposefully on integrating workshops and lectures on medical ethics, communication, and clinical decision-making not only into our training programs, but also in our journals, regional meetings, and international congresses.