This year’s Doniach Lecture at the Pathological Society summer meeting was given by Professor Sir James Underwood. Every time I see James in action I am reminded of Superman – “mild mannered Clark Kent becomes superhero ….”. There can be little doubt that during his tenure as President of the Royal College, James weathered storm after storm, and in his usual firm but smiling way turned the public perception around. Who can forget, at the most trying time for histopathologists, his giving the first public lecture to the Society in Newcastle in 2005? In his talk entitled “The Public Face of Pathology”, he staunchly defended Pathology and Pathologists at a time when most of us were still scared to look out from under our rocks, let alone stand in a public meeting and declare pathologists the unsung heroes of medicine!
With his proven track record it is hardly surprising that when James talks all sensible people listen, and that is exactly what happened this year in Leeds. You had to listen a little harder this year as James was recovering from a recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy, but even with only one and a bit vocal cords working James was inspiring.
His lecture - “Sights unseen, truths untold: pathology and the modern medical curriculum” was introduced by David Levison, President of the Society, and took on “full face” the current experiences of medical undergraduate education, deficiencies in the doctors we produce, and the decline in the use of pathology as the foundation on which all of medical knowledge is based. Calling on the wisdom of Wilfred Owen, Hippocrates, Ray Tallis and Emyr Benbow, James explained that he had heard the modern medical curriculum likened to a combination of “tree hugging and bereavement counselling”. He invited us to muse on whether there were skills that we would want in a doctor treating us that went beyond a good bedside manner. We were treated to a series of wide ranging thought provoking ideas that remained focused on the task of making us consider whether there might not be a better way to ensure that doctors graduating from Universities spanned the complete skill sets that were needed in the profession, including understanding disease and a knowledge of anatomy, citing as evidence anecdotes, media stories and the evidence base, such as it is, underpinning modern medical education.
With his proven track record it is hardly surprising that when
James talks all sensible people listen