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Observations Ethics Man

A perforated education

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 06 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1186
  1. Daniel K Sokol, lecturer in Medical Ethics and Law, St George’s, University of London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

    Surely every medical student worth their stethoscope should be familiar with the bare bones of the profession’s history?

    If asked to name famous doctors in medicine’s long and tempestuous history, what would you say? Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, Maimonides, Vesalius, Harvey, Lister, Osler, Cushing, Salk?

    When I recently put this question to a class of third year medical students, I was disheartened to hear their first answer: Harold Shipman, the British general practitioner who murdered more than 200 patients and hanged himself in prison in 2003. The next most popular answer was Gregory House, a brilliant though mischievous, cynical, and quite fictional character of the popular American television series House.

    A few days ago, I attended a surgical conference in London. A distinguished professor of surgery, who qualified in the first half of the 20th century, showed a chest x ray to the audience. “We used to see a lot of this in the 1940s, when I was a house surgeon,” he reminisced. With an austere nod of the head, he asked an unsuspecting junior doctor …

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