Medical oddities

Here I’m talking about oddities in academic journals rather than the conventional grotesque specimens you might find in an anatomy museum. I don’t follow pop science. But trolling through dry publications, occasionally something like this catches my eye and makes me think really?!

1. Injecting urine into animals

Amongst this review outlining the physiology of HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) rise in pregnancy and accuracy issues surrounding the modern day pregnancy test, the authors in a terribly non-sensationalistic way includes this juicy bit of horrible history:

“In 1927 the first bioassay for the diagnosis of pregnancy was introduced (Aschheim-Zondek Test). In this test, urine from women in the early stage of pregnancy was injected into immature female mice or rabbits. The ovaries of the animals were examined a few days subsequent to injection for the presence of follicular maturation, luteinisation and haemorrhage into the ovarian stroma, which signified a positive result for the pregnancy test.” – Gnoth and Johnson, Strips of Hope: Accuracy of Home Pregnancy Tests and New Developments

Testing for pregnancy wasn’t simple in those days and involved “sacrificing” the animals. How else would they have examined the ovaries of small animals to see whether they responded to the hormones from a pregnant woman’s urine? For those who are interested, NIH History (US) has a nice timeline on developments in the pregnancy test right back from the time of the Egyptians.

2. Face of giant panda on MRI

A case report mentioned the “face of giant panda sign”. I thought it was ridiculous – maybe the image was photoshopped? But I looked it up and apparently this radiological oddity does exist. I won’t re-post the image here but it’s all quite clear when you see the side by side images through the title link. For my physician-to-be friends who might want to read more about these brainy things, here’s a discussion about the radiological sign in “Wilson’s disease: MRI features.”

3. What do medical students blog about?

“Blogging Medical Students: A Qualitative Analysis” – who would have thought a study on what medical students write about on their blogs would ever have been done! The authors set out to identify themes in the content of medical student blogs. During their study period in 2012, I would have been blogging actively as a medical student too! But my site wasn’t particularly “Google-able” and anyway, according to their demographic breakdown somehow the blogs were sourced almost exclusively from the UK or US.

They went for a qualitative study rather than a representative sample. But in their limited sample of around twenty English-language blogs, they had a half and half ratio of guys to girls as blog authors. Which I find surprising.  If we talk far more than guys, surely we would write more too? I guess another possibility is that male bloggers are more prominent on Google. Here are some common themes across the students’ blogs:


Pinilla et al, Table 2 of Blogging Medical Students: A Qualitative Analysis

“Students often reflected on emotionally distressing experiences in medical school either related to realizing “that patients die” during clinical rotations or the “fear of not being good enough” academically and failing to meet the standards of a qualified physician.” – Pinilla et al, Blogging Medical Students: A Qualitative Analysis

Well, this is certainly one of the most eerie academic papers I’ve come across. Sounds like they summarised and classified my blog fairly well into “medical school” and “social life”, and all the relevant subcategories without ever coming across it, and in a rather cold and distant way. I thought I wrote like myself, rather than a typical medical student! But then I don’t know too many classmates who blogged, so I doubt a typical medical student blogger was an accurate reflection of the typical medical student. What does a typical doctor’s blog look like then?



  1. I’ve seen qualitative analysis of computer scientists’ personal blogs too, and yes I also fall within the tip of the metaphorical bell curve despite how ‘unique’ I tried to make my site. The blogging members of any profession tend to be more introspective and introverted, so you’re right in questioning whether the themes and sentiments of blogs is representative of the cohort. That might not be a bad thing though; it means that even if no one in your immediate social circle also blog or experience your profession in the same way, there are people out there who are like-minded if you’re brave enough to reach out :)


    1. Hey, thanks for sharing about the studies you’ve read, amazing! Yeah you’re right, it’s strange to think that we fall within the “bell curve” without realising it. But not everyone gets approached by a book wanting to publish their works haha! Congrats :)


  2. That’s a study you could publish; analysis of doctors’ blogs. If they were able to publish with just 20 blogs, it wouldn’t be too hard! ^^


    1. Haha the thought did cross my mind when I wrote the question at the end. I don’t know what sort of meaningful discussion you would have though. I guess for medical students you can maybe make a point to universities about teaching / welfare (as they did in this study) but I don’t know if you can do the same for doctors. But yeah, we should start keeping a list of obscure research topics to pursue… need a new project since you’re not likely to have any new stories for that book we planned to pen one day :P


  3. […] of the appealing aspects of reading many pieces of writing is that occasionally there are interesting finds (nothing to do with academic quality). Occasionally, students reflect on clinical medicine, which […]


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