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.