CRN Profile: Jeffrey Drazen, MD
Jeffrey Drazen, MD
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is one of the most highly respected sources of medical research in the world, read by more than 600,000 people in more than 170 countries each week.
Jeffrey Drazen, MD, of the Pulmonary Division at BWH, has served as editor-in-chief of NEJM since 2000.
"Some people say this is the best job in medicine, and I agree," said Drazen. "Our job is to find the best research. People send their research to us because we have the reputation of being the best medical journal."
For Drazen, serving as NEJM editor certainly isn't his only job. The pulmonologist manages to balance a demanding schedule that also includes conducting asthma research, treating patients and serving as the chief of BWH's newly established Division of Medical Communications. Somehow, Drazen still finds time to dedicate to his hobbies - Nantucket basket-making and constructing cases for grandfather clocks.
Reporting on Medical Milestones
As editor, Drazen has the opportunity to help NEJM deliver news on medical milestones and issues of critical importance in health care. When SARS outbreaks were reported in Toronto and Hong Kong on March 16, 2003, Drazen contacted his colleagues who were caring for these patients to get a first-hand account. By the first week in April, three articles on SARS had been published in NEJM.
"Our goal has always been to provide doctors with a weekly journal, which keeps them up-to-date on what's happening in the medical world," said Drazen, noting that of the 6,000 articles submitted to the journal each year, just 200 make it to the printed page.
Drazen recalled some of the medical milestones that the magazine has chronicled over the years, such as in 1846, when the first anesthetic procedure was conducted, and in 1981, when the first full descriptions of what we now know as HIV-AIDS were published.
Drazen added that NEJM has close ties to BWH. Joseph Loscalzo, MD, PhD, chairman and physician-in-chief of the Department of Medicine, was at one time an associate editor. Robert Dluhy, MD, professor of medicine of the Endocrinology Department, Arnold Epstein, MD, professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health, Edward Benz, MD, professor of medicine and president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Thomas Lee, MD, professor of medicine, and Allan Ropper, MD, professor of neurology, are five of the nine associate editors at NEJM, and BW/F President Betsy Nabel, MD, is on the editorial board.
Effective Medical Communication: The Right Message to the Right Audience
Part of Drazen's work at BWH focuses on another aspect of communications. He serves as chief of the Division of Medical Communications, which works to improve interactions between the hospital's researchers, physicians and patients.
"When we talk about a medical problem, we need to understand who our audience is and make sure we explain the issue in a way they understand," he said. "That's the basis of our work in the Division of Medical Communications."
Last year, the division held a series of seminars to teach physicians how to communicate with the news media and how to submit their work for publication. Drazen said the challenge when it comes to discussing medical news is that a physician's research and aspirations can sometimes be meshed together during the writing process, with the wrong message being published as a result.
"The idea is to tell the media what your aspirations are, but separate them from what can actually be done at the time," said Drazen.
This year, the division will hold seminars on how to discuss subjects like terminal illnesses and dangerous operations with patients and their families.
Over the last 30 years, Drazen's research into the biology and treatment of asthma has led to findings that transformed the care of asthma patients. Drazen got a jump start in his research because of a program started by former BWH Chief of Medicine, Eugene Braunwald, MD, in which interns and junior residents could spend half their time in research pursuits. As the first "research-intern," Drazen also credits Marshall Wolf, MD, with supporting his research interests during his initial years of training.
Drazen's work with K. Frank Austen, MD, professor of medicine at BWH, helped define the role of cysteinyl leukotrienes in asthma, leading to four new licensed pharmaceuticals for asthma with more than 5 million people receiving this treatment worldwide.
Drazen also discovered a link between genetics and patients' responses to asthma medications, which arose after he noticed marked differences in how patients responded to different treatments.
He is currently studying the pro-inflammatory effect of airway constriction in patients with asthma. Drazen said that during an asthma attack, a person's airways are changed dramatically, similar to what is seen during in an inflammatory reaction.
"Our work suggests that medication that dilates the airways may have a benefit beyond relief," he said. "It may prevent these airway changes."
Baskets and Cases
In years past, Drazen worked in the hospital on Nantucket, Mass., and his family now owns a house on the island. A popular hobby there is basket-making, specifically the Nantucket Lightship Basket. It's an art usually practiced in the summer, and Drazen has been weaving them for the last decade.
"Nantucket Lightship Baskets are a unique American art form," said Drazen. "Making them is a slow but rewarding process."
It takes up to 50 hours for Jeffrey Drazen to craft Nantucket baskets, like this one.
Drazen often makes the baskets for wedding presents, adding that it takes 40 to 50 hours to make a single basket. When he began this hobby, Drazen used cane to make the baskets, which he described as an easy material to work with. As his skill improved, he switched to a mixture of oak and cane, a more challenging material.
"Each time I've been able to make them out of better quality materials," Drazen said. "I've always enjoyed making things out of wood."
“Nantucket Lightship Baskets are a unique American art form. Making them is a slow but rewarding process.” – Jeffrey Drazen
Drazen also constructs cases for grandfather clocks in his basement shop in his home in Winchester, Mass. His cases use a design known as a Roxbury Case, so named because the original crafters had offices in the Roxbury Crossing area not far from BWH. These cases are characterized by a narrow waist, and a top with a broken-arch top that has fretwork and finials. Two of the clocks he made for his sons were in the Readers Gallery of Fine Woodworking Magazine in 2009.
"I find that if you make a tall case clock and give it to somebody, they usually keep it and pass it down through the family," Drazen said. "They have enduring value."