Rejuvenating Medical Education: Seeking Help from Homer

Returning to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for inspiration, this book uses these epics as a medium through which we might think imaginatively about key issues in contemporary medicine and medical education. These issues include doctors as heroes, and the legacy of heroic medicine in an age of clinical teamwork, collaboration and a more feminine medicine. The authors challenge ingrained habits in medical education, such as the way we characteristically “train” medical students to communicate with patients and colleagues; the reduction of compassion to the “skill” of empathy; the rote recital of the medical history as a “song”; and the new vogue for “resilience” as response to increasing levels of stress and burnout in the profession.

A Homeric lens also shows new ways of thinking about translation of medical lingo into patients’ understanding, the relatively high levels of anger and error shown in clinical interactions, and modern phenomena such as “whistleblowing” in the face of unacceptable error or misbehaviour. While exhaustion and burnout are becoming more common in medicine, the authors ask if a more lyrical, rather than epic and tragic stance, might benefit medical work.

Drawing on a wealth of experience in the field, the book promotes a new kind of medicine and medical education fit for the 21st century, but envisages these through the ancient lens of Homer’s two epics. In the heroic glory elaborated in the Iliad and the themes of homecoming and hospitality set out in the Odyssey, Homer provides a narrative arc that is a blueprint of modern medicine’s development from a heroic endeavour to a contemporary collaborative provision of hospitality, where the hospital remains true to its name and doctors engage in work of care rather than “fighting” disease with the hospital as battleground.

Robert Marshall has been a consultant pathologist for 30 years at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals, where he was Director of Postgraduate Medical Education, and is an Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School, UK. He has published 45 book chapters and articles in pathology and medical humanities. He was a founder member of the Association for Medical Humanities, of which he was secretary from 2005-8, and is currently helping to develop links between Exeter Medical School and Wollega Medical School in West Ethiopia.

Alan Bleakley is Emeritus Professor of Medical Education and Medical Humanities at the University of Plymouth Peninsula School of Medicine, UK. He is an internationally recognised figure in the fields of medical education and medical humanities with a strong research portfolio and publications record. He was President of the Association for Medical Humanities from 2013 to 2016.

"An impressively written, organized and presented study of impeccable and seminal scholarship, "Rejuvenating Medical Education" is enhanced with the inclusion of a thirty-three page Bibliography and a seven page Index, making it unreservedly recommended for college and university library Medical Education collections and supplemental studies reading lists."

Midwest Book Review Library Bookwatch: December 2017

"We need more books like this one: books that revel in the moral complexity of clinical work and that initiate fruitful dialogues across disciplines to explore it. Marshall and Bleakley see medicine as an art as well as a science and use Homer as a model of what style, presence and refinement might mean in a clinical context. Their book is a salutary intervention at a time when medical education is increasingly laying on algorithmic habits of mind. They evoke the human dimension of medical practice as skilfully as the best physician writers: Rita Charon, say, or Jerome Groopman. At a time when the humanities are in retreat in medical schools, this book offers much-needed food for thought to anyone wanting a detailed account of how the humanities might contribute to clinical training."

Neil Vickers, King's College London Medical History 62/3 (2018)

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ISBN: 1-4438-9564-4

ISBN13: 978-1-4438-9564-4

Release Date: 26th June 2017

Pages: 325

Price: £68.99