Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Advice from Ben Franklin: Doctors should be competent in science

In 1766 Ben Franklin wrote letters of recommendation for the sons of two friends who were applying to medical school at the University of Edinburgh, which might have been the premier institution for studying medicine (or "physic") at the time.  Along with the letters he supplied the young students with some words of wisdom:
But you will be your own best friends, if you apply diligently to your studies, refraining from all idle, useless amusements that are apt to lessen or withdraw the attention from your main business.
Evidently, even 250 years ago the elder generation was concerned about their youngsters going off to drink and party at college.  More interesting to me is the following:
I recommend one thing particularly to you, that besides the study of medicine, you endeavour to obtain a thorough knowledge of natural philosophy in general.  You will from thence draw great aids in judging well both of diseases and remedies, and avoid many errors.  I mention this, because I have observed that a number of physicians, here as well as in America, are miserably deficient in it.
 How interesting that Franklin thought it necessary to explicitly draw the connection between medicine and science!  Medicine really must have been more an art (or pseudoscience) in that time.  I am sure he would be proud of the progress of modern evidence-based medicine, and would decry recent movements against it.

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