By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director

For better or for worse, many medical doctors claw their way into politics. Sometimes, they, like Dr. Bill Frist, become party leaders in the US Senate. Sometimes, they get flambeed by the public after posting an out-of-touch video featuring grocery store crudité. Sometimes, they sign the Declaration of Independence.

And sometimes physicians become revolutionaries who achieve notoriety when they’re alive and then, after they die, achieve long-lasting fame that might or might not be merited—the kind of figure who the New York Times wrote became a cultural icon instead of a political one (or a medical one, I suppose).

[I’ve always loved history. I’ve always loved the idea of taking a peek into the past and studying it from the current-day perspective. I’ve always been interested in the idea of time travel. And now that I’ve found a passion in writing about finance, I’m combining all of this together in an occasional column for WCI that I’m calling “The Financial Wayback Machine.”

I want to journey back in time and look at those supposedly great ideas that now seem ridiculous, all the good and terrible predictions (crystal balls have never not been cloudy), the doctors who did great (and shady) things, and all the seemingly minor news nuggets that ended up making huge waves. It’ll be fun, it’ll be silly, and maybe it’ll be a good lesson for what not to do with your money today.

Step into the Financial Wayback Machine with me, and let’s travel back in time.]

 

Dr. Che Guevara?

Yes, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (aka Che Guevara) was a doctor in his native Argentina before he teamed up with the Castro brothers to upend Cuba in the late 1950s. As noted by HCP Live, Guevara focused his studies on leprosy while attending medical school at Buenos Aires University, and in the early 1950s, he moved to Mexico to begin his dermatology residency.

He never finished.

But before he met Fidel and Raul Castro and engaged in guerrilla warfare against the established Cuban leadership that would eventually hand the dictatorship of the country to Fidel Castro from 1959-2008, Guevara planned to heal patients.

During medical school, Guevara and a friend took a trip of several months to visit Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, where, according to Britannica, “his observations of the great poverty of the masses contributed to his eventual conclusion that the only solution lay in violent revolution.” Or as BMJ put it, “It was this journey that raised his consciousness of the appalling conditions of life for much of the population of South America, largely due to working practices imposed by US companies, backed by brutal and corrupt national governments.”

che guevara doctor

That journey seemed to solidify Guevara’s ideology. Depending on your viewpoint, that means Guevara was either a criminal who subscribed to and enacted dangerous leftist/communist ideas or that he was a hero fighting for social justice for poverty-stricken people.

After he became an actual doctor (though there are some who don’t believe he actually did), Guevara visited Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico where he saw patients and worked in a malaria laboratory.

Guevara thought of himself as a “revolutionary doctor,” and in a 1960 speech, he said he had once dreamed of “becoming a famous medical research scientist” so he could “discover something which would be used to help humanity.” But he saw so much poverty and heartbreak during his South American travels that he believed a “revolutionary doctor” needed an actual revolution.

Said Guevara: “Isolated individual endeavor, for all its purity of ideals, is of no use, and the desire to sacrifice an entire lifetime to the noblest of ideals serves no purpose if one works alone, solitarily, in some corner of America, fighting against adverse governments and social conditions which prevent progress.”

He also said there needed to be violence. Whether you agree that socialized medicine is a good idea, Guevara certainly stood for something that was important in his own mind. But for most of the last decade of his life, the actions he took and stood for certainly went against the basic ideals of what it means to be a doctor. Guevara, though, probably wouldn’t see it that way.

As Britannica notes, “The complex Guevara, though trained as a healer, also on occasion, acted as the executioner (or ordered the execution) of suspected traitors and deserters.”

Or as BMJ writes, “His life raises important moral issues, not only for doctors who aspire to be activists, but for anyone interested in bringing about social justice, or in how best to achieve this.”

In this case, the “revolutionary doctor” focused much more on the first word of that phrase than on the second. And that's why, for better or for worse, people remember him today.

More information here:

A Doc Created the Coolest Shoe in the Whole World

 

An Olympian Gave Up His Dental Career

We already know about the most athletic doctor ever (or at least the fastest at running the mile), and now it’s time to talk about one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers in history who gave up his potential white coat for a red, white, and blue Speedo.

Mark Spitz—he of the fantastic mustache and, less importantly, seven Olympic gold medals—made at least $7 million in the aftermath of his 1972 Olympic triumph, thanks to a myriad of endorsement deals and TV punditry. Spitz had been accepted to dental school in the spring of 1972, and he still planned to return to those studies after his Olympic run was complete. But he became too famous, and he followed another lane in life as the best American swimmer in history (until Michael Phelps dove into the pool, anyway).

Still, even four years later in 1976, the Harvard Crimson reported that Spitz had enrolled in a few courses at USC so he could return to Indiana for dental school. A few weeks after those pre-dental science classes began, though, he dropped them.

“I always planned to become a dentist after my swimming days ended following senior year, but then found myself involved in something I enjoyed more and kept putting off dental school until I had firmly established myself in business,” Spitz told the Crimson. “I am sure now that the decision to go back four years later and crack the books again stemmed from reading too much about how I was expected to become Mark Spitz, DDS.”

More information here:

Leaving Dentistry and Finding Happiness

 

Which Cigarettes Do Doctors Prefer?

Camels, obviously.

More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette, October 1946
byu/Granite-M inagedlikemilk

Apparently, more than 100,000 doctors were included in this mid-20th century survey about their favorite cigarette. According to the University of Alabama, though, “the methodology [of this apparent survey] was not described, and it is not known if free samples of Camels had been sent to doctors just prior to the survey.”

Either way, enjoy this commercial from what looks like the early 1950s and try to imagine a world where your medical provider lights one up in front of you while discussing your high cholesterol, that new polio vaccine, and the latest episode of The Honeymooners.

 

Money Song of the Week

If you know the band Sugarland, you probably know the name of Kristian Bush, who teamed with Jennifer Nettles in 2002 to form the country duo that went on to Grammy success while selling millions of records.

I’m not much of a country music guy, but I know Sugarland because I used to watch Nettles play small clubs in Athens, Georgia with her previous band, Soul Miner’s Daughter, at the turn of this century. But we’re focused on Bush today because his 2014 solo tune “Trailer Hitch” delivers an important message that many in the WCI community have already heard many times before.

The song is about being generous to others (and yourself) if you have the financial means. It’s about making sure you appropriately spend the money you have. It’s about making sure you have an impact on others while you’re still alive. The wealthiest person in the cemetery, after all, is still dead.

As Bush sings:

“I don’t know why, know why/Everybody wanna die rich/Diamonds, champagne/Work your way down that list.

We try, everybody tries/Tries to fit into that ditch/You can’t take it with you when you go/Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.”

 

 

Here’s how Bush explained the song, via Song Facts.

“As we went through it, it was very easy to walk into the shoes of, ‘Let's write a song that's fun that has a message that also matters. Let's just not bang over anybody's head with it.’ We probably have one too many things in our life. All of us. We can probably give at least one of them back or away,” Bush said. “You can't take it with you when you go. It is a question and it isn't an answer of a song. It's just a question, why do we all want to die rich? Isn't there something we can do with that?”

 

Tweet(s) of the Week

Being a good doctor does not necessarily mean capitulating to a system that might be trying to pigeonhole your talents and your earning ability.

[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]