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From the Archive

Department of Surgery, University of Illinois, Chicago

“Language Culture in the Teaching of Medicine.” Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 1930;5:288.

There was a time in this country, when, in the average community, the doctor, lawyer and preacher formed the triad of intellectual giants to whom the rank and file of citizenry naturally turned for information, advice or guidance. With the advent of universal education the doctor, especially, lost this dominant position.

A study of the evolution of medicine in America forces one to recognize three fairly well defined stages.

The pioneer physician in America was a cultured gentleman who, having become a proficient Latin scholar, betook himself to some European medical center for his further education. Coming back home, these gentlemen kept up the traditions of the Edinburgh, Paris and other schools.

The second stage may be spoken of as the commercial era of American medicine. Medical schools multiplied like mushrooms; anybody could enter, almost anybody could graduate. Freshmen deficient in Latin were given a three months cramming in connection with their basic medical studies.

The third or present era is that which is witnessing the marvelous improvement in type of student and methods of teaching. We should strive to regain our traditional status of intellectual superiority by progressively raising our cultural level.

A knowledge of at least one foreign language must necessarily broaden our horizon, increase our understanding of the humanities and keep us in closer touch with medical progress. It is difficult to state which of the European continental languages is at present the most useful. The World War enabled French and Italian medical publications to challenge the hitherto undisputed Teutonic supremacy; a reading knowledge of either of the three principal languages of continental Europe is always a decided advantage.

We should also, in our teaching hours as well as in every day intercourse, use correct English; it is painful to hear a medical teacher speak of the “stummick” or “Bronchial tubes”! One may be certain that, in the days of Benjamin Rush, nobody would have dared use the word “Doc”; we are at present “Docs” to the public—a bad sign; familiarity never has bred respect.

Let us all, by our conduct, general culture and proper use of the English language, endeavor to re-elevate our calling to that of a noble profession!

© 2002 Association of American Medical Colleges