From the Editor's Desk

Martin B Van Der Weyden
Med J Aust 2002; 176 (9): 405. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2002.tb04476.x
Published online: 6 May 2002

Osler’s list

Biomedical science has transformed modern medicine. Significantly, it has also transformed the nature of the patient–doctor 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, Plutarch’s Lives, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Religio Medici, Don Quixote, Emerson and Oliver Wendell-Holmes Jr’s Breakfast-Table Series.

With both religion and classical languages in decline, what would Osler’s list be today? My own would include Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer ward, Crichton’s Five patients, Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, Frankl’s Man’s search for meaning, Konner’s The trouble with medicine, Watson’s The double helix, Friedman and Friedland’s Medicine’s 10 greatest discoveries, Groopman’s Second opinions and Williams’ The doctor stories.

And what might your best 10 include?

  • Martin B Van Der Weyden

  • The Medical Journal of Australia



remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.