HotAIR - Eric Chivian


Nobel Thoughts: ERIC CHIVIAN

Profound Insights of the Laureates

by Marc Abrahams

Eric Chivian is a staff psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is one of four American and three Russian cofounders of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. We spoke in Dr. Chivian's office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

QUESTION: Is your desk neat or messy?

Very messy. Chaotic. I have pictures of my lady friend, pictures of my boat, pictures of my kids, papers to get to, bills to pay. I periodically -- about once a week -- wade through it, straighten it up and make resolutions to keep it more organized.

QUESTION: What characteristics are most important in choosing a comfortable chair?

For me, I use a rocking chair, and my patient also has a rocking chair. That's nice because it's very hard to sit still for fifty minutes, either for me or for the patient. It's kind of nice to be able to move around. I think rocking chairs are great inventions anyway. I also use a pillow for my back. Hours and hours of sitting is an occupational hazard for psychiatrists.

QUESTION: How do you take your coffee?

I have a slight coffee fetish. I buy my coffee from The Coffee Connection. I mix decaf with regular. I buy fairly strong roasted coffees, and mix them half and half. I'm very particular about making my coffee. I heat my water, which is spring water -- this sounds very peculiar -- in a pyrex florence flask. I use a Melior, which is a glass coffee maker which suspends the coffee and has a screen plunger to push down the grains. I add sugar and use condensed milk. I would use cream but I'm trying to keep my cholesterol down -- and condensed milk doesn't cool it too much.

QUESTION: Do you have any advice for young people who are entering the field?

One of the things is that you don't have to know everything. When you go to medical school there's a sense that you have to be aware of everything -- or else somebody's going to die. I don't think that's true. Unless you're going out in the Sudan, you're surrounded by lots of other people. I think it's important to really learn well the stuff you're most interested in, and learn the rest as well as you can. But you've got to maintain some perspective or else you'll go crazy. Because there's just too much to know, especially now. So I think that's important -- to really focus on the things that are most interesting and compelling, and not believe that you've got to master everything.

The other thing is that medicine, especially psychiatry, can be an extremely lonely profession. There's the sense of intimacy, because you're with people in a very intimate way all day, but it's only in one direction. And not only that, but you can't really talk about what you do to very many people, even to your significant other or to your family. You can't go home and say, "Guess who I just saw." That's hard. So you really need a lot of collegial interchange.

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