Biomedical science has transformed modern medicine. Significantly, it has also transformed the nature of the patientdoctor relationship.
Science has shifted the focus from the individual with an illness to the disorders of organs, cells and altered genes; from knowing the person to knowing the disease; from experience-based to evidence-based practice.
The current dominance of science has reawakened a corresponding interest in the value of poems, stories and essays. As observed by United States physician and ethicist Howard Brody, Stories are essential as a means of perceiving how scientific knowledge in its generality can be applied to individuals in all their particularity. The exploration of literature is now a growth area in some medical schools.
But the value of literature in medicine is not new. More than 100 years ago, in a postscript entitled Bed-side library for medical students, William Osler observed that a liberal education may be had at a very slight cost of time and money, and exhorted students to read for half an hour before going to sleep.
Osler listed 10 books of which he wrote you may make close friends . . . Studied carefully . . . these will help in the inner education of which I speak. These books were the Old and New Testament, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Plutarchs Lives, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Religio Medici, Don Quixote, Emerson and Oliver Wendell-Holmes Jrs Breakfast-Table Series.
With both religion and classical languages in decline, what would Oslers list be today? My own would include Twains The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Solzhenitsyns Cancer ward, Crichtons Five patients, Alboms Tuesdays with Morrie, Frankls Mans search for meaning, Konners The trouble with medicine, Watsons The double helix, Friedman and Friedlands Medicines 10 greatest discoveries, Groopmans Second opinions and Williams The doctor stories.
And what might your best 10 include?
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