CC Issue 22 / Comedy / Social Work

The Old School Physician

Occasionally medicine lends itself to a bit of social stereotyping… I thought I would intermittently share a few.


Dr. Geoffrey Stansbury MBChB BSc MD MRCP was of the firm belief that medicine was not a science but an art. How could the impenetrable richness (and unfathomable depths?) of the human condition be reduced to numbers needed to treat and odds ratios? Of course, as a former president of the Royal College Geoffrey was enormously proud of the progress that western civilisation had made in mankind’s advancement against the evils of disease. Yet there was something about the new generation of doctors that worried him, the desire to subject the patient to this new test and that trial drug before they had even laid a hand on them.

No. If forty years in the Noble Profession had taught him nothing else, it had showed him that 80% of his work was done in the first 10 minutes with the patient. Inspecting from the foot of the bed, eliciting a detailed history and performing a thorough examination was virtually all that was needed to seal the diagnosis. Occasionally in the more complex cases one had to resort to some investigations, but this was certainly the exception rather than the rule. No multi-centre randomised controlled trial could ever replace an experienced doctor’s intuition. Indeed, Geoffrey’s naturally mild manner was only stirred to anger at the sight of the houseman subjecting his patients to daily and entirely unnecessary phlebotomy.

Technically Geoffrey was a respiratory physician, though this would not be an immediate conclusion drawn from viewing his weekly clinic list. In his mind specialisation was another example of the narrow mindedness that had crept into medicine and limited the physician’s ability to comprehensively care for his patients. As he entered the waiting room in his three piece tweed suit and cravat it was like a shepherd tending his flock. Month by month, often for years on end, they continued to come to the green pastures of Dr. Stansbury’s concerned frown and listening ear, presenting with all manner of foibles and maladies of which pathological illness was generally not one. Every now and again during one of his bird- watching holidays in Scotland, rumour that Dr. Standsbury was retiring (leaked by management?) precipitated panic through the clinic, leaving the hapless Registrar to pick up the pieces.

But Geoffrey had no intention of retiring. ‘Ars longa, vita brevis,’ and as far as he was concerned he would continue to paint.

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