Meet: Dwain L. Eckberg, M.D.
Autonomic Neuroplasticity in Weightlessness
Who I am:
My job has many facets. I am first a physician with specialties in internal
medicine and cardiology. Four months a year, I am in charge of cardiac
consultations in my hospital. My team and I make decisions about medical
or surgical treatment of patients with heart diseases, and often decide
if their hearts are strong enough to withstand surgery of other problems.
Usually, I work with a team of doctors and medical students. Learning
medicine is still very much an apprenticeship; I try to teach people who
see patients with me about medicine, based on the problems the patients
bring to us. I have a huge file of medical articles, and can usually pull
out an article that speaks directly to a problem posed by a patient.
I am also a scientist, working with other scientists in my laboratory
and elsewhere in the United States and other countries. The work with
scientists from other countries is very rewarding; I count many friends
around the world. Currently, we have research ongoing with scientists
from Finland, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, and Romania. The science
takes me to those countries from time to time, and exposes me to different
cultures and languages. I urge students who see themselves as budding
scientists, to work hard on modern foreign languages. Being a scientist
means that I must: 1) generate research ideas; 2) find funds to support
the research (in my case, from the National Institute of Health, the Department
of Veterans Affairs, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration);
3) obtain permission from university and hospital committees to do the
research (currently, all my resarch is with human subjects); 4) do the
research; 5) analyze the data (analysis is heavily dependent on computers);
6) present the research results at national or international meetings;
and 7) most important of all, publish the research. In the end, it is
the publication that matters.
I am also a professor of medicine and physiology in my university. I
give lectures to medical and physiology students each year.
My Career Journey
I arrived at my career through the back door. As a college student,
I spent some months in Jordan, doing archaeology. There, I met a medical
missionary who was treating Palestinian refugees. I decided to go to medical
school. In medical school, I decided that of the medical specialties,
I liked internal medicine the best. Then I decided I liked cardiology
most of all (I still do). When I began cardiology training, I decided
that I liked research. I have not looked back.
I have had many teachers, some in high school, some in college, who
inspired me by their love of learning. They loved their subjects and they
transferred that enthusiasm to me. I hope I transfer some of my enthusiasm
to people I work with and try to teach.
Preparation for Career
I regard my non-medical, non-scientific preparations as being extremely
important to my life and career. I have always read books, and continue
to do so even now. I am lately much taken with history. I had large numbers
of courses in literature in college, and my major field was philosophy.
I learned to read ancient Greek and Latin. Purely by accident, I learned
to type very well. (I do my own word processing, and put my ideas into
words directly in front of the computer.) I cannot imagine anyone going
into science who is not into computers in a major way. I feel that I have
benefitted by having a broad, rather than narrow background.
Likes/Dislikes about career
The career is mostly positive. I enjoy patient care; it is extremely
rewarding to make a difference in the life of a patient and patient's
family. I enjoy one-on-one teaching. Above all, I enjoy research. To me,
it is a consumate luxury to be able to scrutinize new data and have new,
creative thoughts about how the human body works. The devil in the work
is time - there is not enough time to do everything well. I do not have
a solution to this problem, and it seems to get worse.
Science is not everything. Scientists are also husbands (or, increasingly,
wives), fathers (or mothers), house renovators, mechanics, gardeners,
financiers. I dedicated a book I wrote (published by Oxford University
Press) "To my girls, Rebecca [my wife], Sarah, Marya, Leah [my daughters],
and little Alexandra [my granddaughter, who was two years old when
the book was published]."
I listen to music - all kinds, but especially classical music.
Music is incredibly important to me. When the going gets rough,
there is only one composer: Johann Sebastian Bach.