Intended for healthcare professionals

Book Book

Doctors Afield

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 08 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:121
  1. Alex Paton, retired consultant physician
  1. Oxfordshire

    Eds Mary G McCrea Curnen, Howard Spiro, Deborah St James

    Embedded Image

    Yale University Press, £18.50, pp 233 ISBN 0 300 08020 4

    Rating: Embedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded Image

    Doctors in Britain are disadvantaged by an education limited to the sciences in order to gain entry to medical school, an obese medical curriculum, and the slavery of house jobs. Thereafter, a busy professional life is dominated by technology and specialisation. There is little time or opportunity to broaden the mind or to talk with patients. It is encouraging, therefore, that the University of Durham has established a centre for the arts and humanities in medicine, and one of its aims is to promote the development of more rounded doctors.

    We could learn much from our colleagues across the pond, where college students are accepted into medical school on their breadth of knowledge rather than scientific prowess, and where many medical schools have long established courses in the humanities. One such is the Yale Program for Humanities in Medicine, which has produced Doctors Afield, an exhilarating collection of mostly personal accounts by doctors with dual interests. The 27 contributions cover an eclectic range: painting, photography, sculpture, jazz music, singing and composition, poetry and fiction, religion, public affairs, aeronautics, collecting maps and medals, making wine, and producing educational toys.

    The accounts are studded with quotable instances of lives of both patients and professionals being enriched by the wider view. In the first chapter Roy Calne, distinguished transplant surgeon and painter, writes that patients are “often pleased at the chance of sitting [for their portrait], so that they can talk to the surgeon about little things.” This point is also made by Norman Vickers, paediatrician and jazz musician: “A physician may seem unapproachable within his medical aura, but patients seem comfortable talking with a musician.” “Patients want emotion from their doctor, and empathy,” says Michael LaCombe, “and do not want providers, do not want to be simply clients.”

    Professional life is also enhanced. For example, Eli Neuberger, a paediatrician specialising in child abuse and a jazz musician, says that music “offers succor and relief from the oppressive aspects of my medical work” and “keeps me in touch with the emotional underpinnings of life.” Raphael Campo, a physician and poet, thinks that “poetry is necessary because it can help model empathetic relationships between care providers and patients.”

    It is fitting that this collection should come from Yale, one of whose most famous alumni, the composer Charles Ives, had a successful dual career in music and the insurance business. Publication has been supported by the Bayer Corporation, which has distributed the book to physicians throughout the United States.


    • Reviews are rated on a 4 star scale (4=excellent)

    View Abstract

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription