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The Myth of William Osler-bookcover

By: Patrick Fiddes

The Myth of William Osler

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The Myth of William Osler presents a radical re-examination of the philosophies and practices of a renowned American medical hero.

It challenges widely-accepted beliefs about Osler which, while unsettling to many readers, brings to light interpretations and approaches which have disrespected Osler’s expressed wishes, exaggerated his achievements and dishonoured his memory.

The Myth questions the originality of both Osler’s teaching philosophies and his educational legacies, and the credit he received for educational innovations that were not his. It examines Osler’s disregard of contemporary advances occurring in moral philosophy and medical ethics, his uncertain values and his documented unethical practices.

The Myth argues that Osler’s immutable habit, his proclaimed Way, reflected a lifelong application to each task that, in the end, became his defining flaw.

While William Osler’s reputation as a learned medical historian is not contested, The Myth attests that even here, his interpretations of medicine’s history were highly selective, often constructed to support a view predicated on Ancient Greek, Renaissance European and English medical philosophies and practices. Osler’s teaching—as revered as it was—centred on the ancient tradition of the Hippocratic art of observation while remaining largely untouched by the emerging importance of the patient’s history that was being pursued by more unbiased and innovative others.

William Osler’s legacy will stand but with a greater complexity than has been previously appreciated.

Patrick Fiddes is a retired consultant physician in internal medicine and an associate professor of medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. His long interest in medicine’s history, its teaching and its ethics gave him cause to reappraise the novelty of William Osler’s contributions to medical education.

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