Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Careers

Is the history of medicine worth your while?

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/sbmj.0712448 (Published 01 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:0712448
  1. Rebecca Lester, foundation year 2 doctor1
  1. 1Hope Hospital, Salford, Manchester

Rebecca Lester makes a case for her one year intercalated degree in the subject

If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.

Aristotle 384-322 BC

Hippocrates probably never wrote his famous oath; nor, it is likely, did he ever swear it

Having completed my medical studies via an intercalated bachelor of science degree in the history of medicine, I am often asked to justify and explain my interest in the subject. “How is that going to help with your career?” and, “Sounds easy, did you just doss around all year?”

I don't necessarily think everyone should do a medical history degree, but I urge you to read about things other than medicine. Before doing this degree, my narrowly focused mind was invited to join a pub quiz team only on the off-chance that there would be a question such as, “What is the medical term for a nosebleed?” I felt ignorant compared with my arts student counterparts.

Providing a context

The history of medicine isn't just history. Every fact we learnt was put in context, and I broadened my knowledge in several different and fascinating directions. Yes, I now know about Pasteur and his germ theory, about Darwin and evolution, about Hippocrates and his oath, but I also know about the societies in which these men lived and about why they thought the way they did. In learning about Ancient Greek …

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