The Hospital as College

James S. Newman, MD

The hospital is the only proper college in which to rear a true disciple of Aesculapius.—John Abernethy (1764-1831), surgeon and teacher

With this quote Sir William Osler began his address, “The Hospital as a College?” to the Academy of Medicine in New York in 1903. His second quote for this report was from the famed physician Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. in 1867:

“The most essential part of a student’s instruction is obtained, as I believe, not in the lecture room, but at the bedside. Nothing seen there is lost: the rhythms of disease are learned by frequent repetition: its unforeseen occurrence stamp themselves indelibly on the memory. Before the student is aware of what he had acquired he has learned the aspects and causes and probable issue of the disease he has seen with his teacher and the proper mode of dealing with them, as far as his master knows.”

Much of what was written is still true: Whether in a teaching institution or making “lonely rounds” we must strive to continue to educate ourselves, our colleagues, and our patients. And what better place to do it than the hospital?

In his report Osler was celebrating a quarter century’s success in education. He demanded a better general education for students, a lengthened period for professional study, and the substitution of theoretical by practical learning. He wanted the student not to learn only from dissecting the sympathetic nervous system but to learn to “take a blood pressure observation” with a kymograph (an instrument used to record the temporal variations of any physiological or muscular process; it consists essentially of a revolving drum, bearing a record sheet on which a stylus travels).

Osler observed that there should be no teaching without a patient for a text: “The whole of medicine is in observation” that the teacher’s art is educating the student’s finger to feel and eyes to see. Give the student good methods and a proper point of view, and experience will do the rest.

A kymograph, which was once used to record the temporal variations of a physiological or muscular process.

A kymograph, which was once used to record the temporal variations of a physiological or muscular process.

Osler expressed confidence that students would keep the hospital physician from slovenliness and improve the care of patients. He was also concerned that “we ask too much of the resident physicians, whose number has not increased in proportion to the enormous amount of work thrust upon them.” Students were the answer, the proto-scut-monkey.

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