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September 1978

Looking Backward for Profit and Pleasure

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery Harvard University School of Medicine Boston, MA 02146

Arch Surg. 1978;113(9):1033. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1978.01370210015001

For a disquieting confrontation with reality, ask the medical student or resident to identify Galen, Pare, Jenner, Lister, Halsted, or Osler. It is astonishing how few traces the giants have left on the cerebral cortices of the young. This unfortunate situation is not only testimony to the truth of sic transit gloria mundi but is evidence of the neglect of medical history by institutions entrusted with the education of physicians.

Addressing the question, "Of what use is medical history?" King1 has cited what many would consider its paramount benefit:

... the study of history enormously enlarges the experience of the individual, allowing him to transcend his personal limitations and to encompass the experience of those who have lived before and who have left appropriate records. For the student of history, the limitations of space and time disappear....

History, in short, gives perspective to performance. It helps the physician to distinguish