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The demise of cultured doctors is bad for everyone

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 22 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3649
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

Many doctors have been famous writers, many famous writers had a medical parent, and many doctors appear as characters in novels and plays: but this is not enough to establish a special connection between medicine and literature, at least for those pedants who will not countenance a statement without the strongest possible evidence in its favour. Before a connection can be honestly asserted, our pedant will say, we need to know that there have been more doctors who were writers, more writers with a medical parent, and more doctors as characters in literature than could be expected by chance.

There are obviously problems here with both numerator and denominator. Who is to count as a writer? Any doctor who has published a book in any literary form or on any literary subject? Even more difficult is the question of who doctors are properly to be compared with. The whole of humanity? Bricklayers? Fishmongers? Lawyers? These difficulties notwithstanding, I am convinced that the connection between medicine and literature is and has been a real one. But will it survive?

In the past, the connection between medicine and literature was …

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