Sir William Osler Was “Most Worthless” Student on the Wards

Image from the Osler Library at McGill University

Image from the Osler Library at McGill University

MONTREAL, CANADA – He may be the exalted father of modern medical education and the hallowed champion of medical reason, but devastating new evidence shows that Sir William Osler’s early beginnings in medicine were lackluster at best.  Recently uncovered academic reviews of his performance by upper level trainees at the McGill University’s medical college in Montreal, show he was highly unpopular on the hospital wards.  Unearthed from the vaults of the McGill registrar’s office, these scathing clerkship reviews show a remarkably different side of Western medicine’s greatest hero.

Upper level trainees criticized both his work ethic and his professionalism.  It appears he was plagued by inefficiency and hampered by frivolous medical curiosity.

“Yea, had I a sixpence for ev’ry hour that this cursed Osler spent poking some hepatic trolle’s stomach instead of getting his work done, I wouldn’t be toiling in this armpit of a hospital!”

“…Nigh, we caught him loafing in the latrine with a useless tome of physiology whilst the rest of the medical team were busy leeching the pneumonia patients.”

“I asked him to go and bleed a patient afflicted by female hysteria…and he looks he at me with his imbecilic mustached stare and says he has surpassed his work hours limit and needes to go home.  He then proceeded to question my discernment about bleeding the patient at all!!!”

William Osler (1849 - 1919), Professor of Clin...

William Osler (1849 – 1919), Professor of Clinical Medicine 1884-1888, portrait photograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Others pointed to a distracted lack of clinical acumen in their observations of his performance:

“Alas, he [Osler] missed the most obvious case of consumption upon which I have ever lain my eyes!!  …I took myself there to the physician work quarters to find him and, forsooth!, he had occupied himself with tasting tests of diabetic urine instead of discharging that patient to the sanatorium!”

One upper level complained about his budding arrogant desire to create a legacy in the physical exam:

“Would that Billy Osler had seen the blatant signs of St. Anthony’s fire and applied a poultice!  Instead, he made himself busy attempting to apply his surname to various and sundry physical exam signs.”  

His potential went grossly unrecognized…

“Osler isn’t worth a pint of warm bile.  I wish he were more like Gibois…he gets his work done without a gripe or a question.  Now that is a student with potential!”

“Two years henceforth, he [Osler] will most likely be tending to the medical needs of heifers in some Western land forsaken by civilized men.  I, for one, would not trust him to shoote my lamed horse!”  

As most know, Osler went on to publish groundbreaking medical texts, re-design medical education, help found Johns Hopkins medical school, and become Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford.  To Sir William Osler, who proved that even a lousy medical student can rise up and become a legendary healthcare icon, the Daily Medical Examiner offers its “weekly” DME Health Hero salute.


COMMENT:  This is…of course…satire.  Given that Sir William Osler helped establish the core practice of students learning by seeing patients, we can only speculate about what he would have been like as a junior trainee in the current clerkship system.  I think his supervising residents would have despised him, and that he would have a touch of moustached disapproval for the current training climate of work hours, efficiency, and rapid disposition of patients for hospital profit.

4 thoughts on “Sir William Osler Was “Most Worthless” Student on the Wards

    • Good question! Osler was probably actually a rock-star on the wards…this is more a criticism of our current medical climate which discourages trainees from medical inquiry and physical exam skills in favor of scut work. Osler would encourage both of your activities. (He was a tireless student of physiology but also highly creative…He was a famed medical writer and also wrote satire in his spare time. He wouldn’t know what a blog is, but he’d definitely approve of you studying hard and also using your free time to write!!)

      • Hehe my original comment was a poor attempt at internet sarcasm on the heels of your satirical bit. But as for medical inquiry, the doctor-patient interaction is an incredibly important part of whole-person healthcare. This summer, I asked a really wise healthy weight program director and pediatrician what I can work on now as a second year–motivational interviewing and simply caring about people in your life.

      • Leave it to us to miss sarcasm! Thanks for reading and best wishes… BTW, talking to patients is highly over-rated. Focus on the labs/x-rays and financial reimbursement; try to ignore things like feelings and “caring” which will only get in the way.

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