Friday, 6 January 2012

So this is the New Year

Aside from losing what little hair I have left over a project which developed a life of its own, broke out of the laboratory and terrified the local villagers, I've been listening to The Making of Modern Medicine, which was originally a series on BBC Radio 4 which follows the evolution of medicine from the time of Galen and the humours through to the mid-to-late twentieth century and high science.

Andrew Cunningham speaks eloquently and with good humour on a topic which I think too few medics have any notion about. In much the same way it behooves us to know how our own countries were born and a how they impacted the world, I think medics should know a bit about where medicine (as an art, as well as a science) comes from. The story has a very engaging narrative and includes, where appropriate, actual documents and notes made by doctors from the ages. Obviously it cannot cover absolutely everything, given that it covers several thousand years, but I think the editorial decisions made about which topics to focus on are well chosen.

For me, the biggest take home points for me were how we as modern medical students owe almost everything about the current teaching style to post-revolutionary France. "Little reading, much seeing and much doing" was the message from the teaching hospitals of Paris of the early 1800's - institutions which did not previously exist at a time when medicine was more about lectures and watching someone else dissect or perform examinations, rather than the student getting stuck in. The other resonant message was how medicine has moved from the times of Galen and Hippocrates when the patient would tell the doctor that they were unwell to the more modern, scientific world in which the doctor tells the patient when they are unwell - Indeed you cannot be unwell until a doctor says that you are unwell. I don't want to come off as reductionist about that point I can't help but feel that something has been lost there (as regards communication and relating to patients), something subtle but important.

Anyway, it's a great listen and very good value for money (6+ hours) - excellent gym fodder, when you want to take a break from the books and want something medical but light-hearted and engaging. And maybe someone else to read for you!

Amazon (UK) link: The Making of Modern Medicine
iTunes (UK) link: The Making of Modern Medicine


  1. Dude, you should read, Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It is blowing my I-love-medical-history-nerd-mind. Love. Love. In fact, I've been highlighting and dog earing so many pages I think it'd be better if I dog eared the pages that had NOTHING interesting on them instead, as the book would remain more pristine...

  2. I treated the lead singer of Death Cab on a house call once. Nice guy.