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AANS Meeting Spotlight: Louise Eisenhardt Lecture – Dr. Sally Satel

headshotsGuest post from Catherine Miller, MD (right)
Neurosurgical Resident, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN
Ann M. Parr, MD, PhD, (left)
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN

Although she was not a neurosurgeon, Dr. Louise Eisenhardt had a significant influence on the field of neurosurgery. Her accolades include world renowned neuropathologist, investigator, teacher, editor and scholar. She worked closely with Dr. Harvey Cushing, first as an editorial assistant and then after obtaining her medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine, as a neuropathologist. Together they set up a brain tumor registry of over two thousand specimens, which she continued after Dr. Cushing’s death. In 1944, she became the managing editor of the Journal of Neurosurgery and held this position for twenty-two years. She also served as the first and only woman president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, previously known as the Harvey Cushing Society. In tribute to her many exceptional achievements throughout her lifetime, the Louise Eisenhardt Lecture was established in 2007 to highlight individuals who similarly embody the standards, dedication, and traditions set forth by Dr. Eisenhardt.

Dr. Sally Satel

Dr. Sally Satel

Dr. Sally Satel was the Louise Eisenhardt Lecturer at the 83rd AANS Annual Scientific Meeting held in Washington, D.C. In her lecture titled “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter,” Dr. Satel discussed issues posed in her recent book, Brainwashed – The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, which examines society’s fixation with contemporary neuroscience. She described how recent advancements in neuroimaging are being used to help politicians understand voters, lawyers’ prove the guilt or innocence of a defendant in court, and companies comprehend buying patterns. For example, functional MRIs are used in criminal law to identify possible anomalies within the brain and then attributing a person’s actions to these structures. This practice completely disregards the role of the individual’s self-control, reason, and intent, all of which are involved in decision making. The blame is thus placed on the brain, not the person. While scientific advances have provided groundbreaking insights into the human brain, she cautions that using them to answer certain questions may be dangerous and oversimplifying complex systems.

Dr. Satel obtained her BS from Cornell University, MS from the University of Chicago, MD from Brown University and completed her psychiatry residency at Yale University. She worked as a staff psychiatrist at the West Haven VA Medical Center before becoming involved in politics through the Robert Wood Johnson Healthy Policy Fellowship. She has continued to remain involved in politics as a member of the Fowler Commission to review sexual misconduct allegations at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She is also a member of the National Advisory Council for the Center of Mental Health Services, and a consultant for the Special Committee on Aging. She is a practicing psychiatrist at Partners in Drug Use Rehabilitation and Counseling and a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Satel has also influenced the literary world through her examination of mental health policy and political trends in medicine. Her articles have been published in The New Republic, New York Times, Huffington Post, and Wall Street Journal. She has also authored several other publications including PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine; The Health Disparities Myth; When Altruism Isn’t Enough: The Case for Compensating Organ Donors; and One Nation under Therapy.

Dr. Satel’s work has brought to light many dilemmas in using neuroscience to explain both people and society as a whole. As our specialty is intimately linked to neuro-scientific advances, her concerns should provide us all with some food for thought as to how our work may be affected by these issues.

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