“Paper Teachers:”: Towards a True Postgraduate Education

“Paper Teachers:”: Towards a True Postgraduate Education

David J. Elpern (Kauai Foundation for Continuing Education, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/ijudh.2014040106


Physicians spend many years immersed (drowning?) in their professional literature. There is no way one can keep up with it and most of it is forgettable and sadly inaccurate. This paper's thesis is that the arts (literature, music, fine art, film) are vitally important to one's personal and professional development. They provide the Continuous Medical Inspiration that trumps Continuing Medical Education. Although they may not realize it, each of them has personal canon comprised of those works of art that guide them in their daily lives. Herein, thoughts on documenting one's personal canon are provided.
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Ὁ βίος βραχύς,

ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,

ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,

ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,

ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Life is short,

[the] art long,

opportunity fleeting,

experiment fallible,

judgment difficult.

This still rings True. We will consider how health professionals might better spend their time in the pursuit of continuing medical inspiration (CMI), which is different from continuing medical education (CME).

Dr. Jonathon Hullah, the protagonist of Robertson Davies’ novel, “The Cunning Man” proclaims, “More humanism and less science; that's what medicine needs. But, humanism is hard work and a lot of science is just Tinkertoy.’’(Davies R. 1995) While extreme, this is accurate.

In a similar vein, the English teacher, John Keating, in the movie, Dead Poets Society, tells his students, “We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Over the years, this has almost become a mantra for me.

In his essay on John Keats, William Osler quotes James Russell Lowell: “We reward the discoverer of an anesthetic for the body and make him a member of all the societies, but him who finds a nepenthe for the soul we elect into the small academy of the immortals.’’(Osler W. 1909)

On the 100th anniversary of Keats birth, Osler delivered a talk on Keats to the Johns Hopkins Historical Club. He began with: “We have the very highest authority for the statement that ‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact.” (Osler W. 1909) Six years earlier, Osler wrote, “Literature has often been enriched by those who have deserted medicine for the muses. But to drink deep draughts at Peirian springs unfits and when the thirst is truly divine should unfit a man for the worrying rounds of practice. It is shocking to think had Goldsmith secured the confidence of the old women in Bankside, Southwark, we should probably never have known the Vicar, Olivia or Tony Lumpkin. Still worse, to think of what we should have lost had Keats passed on from a successful career at Guy's to obtain even a distinguished position as a London Surgeon! Happily, such men soon kick free from the traces in which the average doctor trots to success.’’ (Cushing H. 1940)

And the physician-poet, William Carlos Williams in his long poem Asphodel wrote:

Look at

what passes for the new.

You will not find it there but in

despised poems.

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

Around twenty years ago, I asked myself “will you spend your life lost in a sea of minutiae, most of it unremarkable, or do you try to find some Truth on this planet? Truth handed down over the millennia by mentors culled from the Academy of the Immortals, not from my professional societies!

This is not a new idea. The Roman poet, Horace (65 BC – 8 BC), wrote: “omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, lectorem delectando pariterque monendo. (He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time.)

Great literature is sweet in that it delights our senses, but it is also pregnant with meaning. William Osler, befitting the times he lived in, was more controlling than today’s professors, and so he directed his medical students at the new Johns Hopkins Medical School to read certain books for a half hour before retiring in the evening. This was the genesis of his Bedside Library. Today, his list, while worth perusing, is sadly dated. My colleague, Mike LaCombe and I recently edited a book on Osler’s Bedside Library. (Lacombe MA & Elpern DJ, 2009) It is as an introduction to the world's great literature for physicians with essays on the books in Osler’s Bedside library plus twenty other works about which Osler wrote or spoke. LaCombe and I recruited leaders in the medical humanities to discuss why these works appealed to Osler and why the modern medical reader should consider reading them.

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