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Choosing medicine despite indignity visited on patients


Limitations of scientific medicine
Harold Lambert Physician
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As well as the... as the medicine you learnt a lot about what... about the actual patients, you learnt a lot about what the medicine was about. I realised very early, maybe as a houseman, that there was a conflict between scientific medicine - going into things in depth and the fact that you didn't know what was going on most of the time. And although there's been all this modern teaching about evidence-based medicine and, you know, getting science more into medicine, I think it's in a way slightly demeaning of my generation. I think what students like us and the ones I began to teach found difficult, was the different levels of evidence that you were contending with, that some things, you know, insulin lowers the blood sugar were very tight and very real and you knew all about it. Other things were a bit sort of woolly and a lot of the things, you didn't know anything about at all, you didn't know what was going on and I think most reasonably intelligent students realised perfectly well that they were working at different levels and they weren't claiming that everything was cut and dried.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: medicine, houseman, scientific medicine, students, intelligent

Duration: 1 minute, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008