Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Mad Docs

Yesterday we went to see 'Two Mad Docs', an exhibition in little gallery tucked under the arches of Loughborough Junction Station. The Red Gate Gallery is an intimate space. The exhibition consists of eight canvases and 19 photographs. The canvases are by Nora Rahmen, all painted using just her fingers. Subjects deal with balance and connectivity. Using no more than two or three colours, they are dramatic and interesting.

The photographs are by hand surgeon Vaikunthan Rajaratnam. These are not for the squeamish! Admittedly, the almost-overpowering smell of the freshly painted walls might have contributed to the stomach-churning effect they had on me. There is an element of fascination in seeing the delicacy of nerves and tendons. It also gave a good sense of the skill needed in performing hand surgery.

The title 'Two Mad Docs' is a misnomer. There is nothing mad about the work on show here, except perhaps the price list for the photographs: at £115, I suspect that a photograph of a 'small cut on the hand of a chef' showing tendon and nerve damage is going to be a hard sell. A few of the photographs are very artistic and have an aesthetic appeal, but most look like they belong in a text book. That's not to say that they don't belong in an art exhibition -- it's a nice rendering of the multiple meanings of 'art'.

As the blurb says, these doctors spend much of their waking hours 'caring for their patients and with little time and opportunity for creativity'. Being able to put on an exhibition, however small, is a real achievement. It's good to see the value of creativity being recognised.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Masters Studentships in History of Medicine

The School of Historical Studies at Newcastle University is pleased to advertise between 4 and 6 Masters Studentship Awards for postgraduate study in Newcastle’s Wellcome Trust recognised MA programme in the History of Medicine during the academic year 2009-10. The closing date for applications is 30 April 2009.

The stipends for these awards will be set as follows: Two studentships will be awarded at either £15,000 (including home/EU fees) for full-time home/EU students, or £20,000 (including international fees) for full-time non-EU students of outstanding merit; the other studentships will be awarded at either £5,000 (including home/EU-fees) for meritorious full-time home/EU students, or £10,000 (including international fees) for non-EU students. Part time studentships will be awarded to meritorious applicants at c. half the above rate per annum.

The studentships are funded by the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine and will be available as of September 2009. The Northern Centre is a partnership between the Universities of Newcastle and Durham, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust. Successful applicants will join the postgraduate community based at the School of Historical Studies at Newcastle University. Postgraduate teaching and research supervision in the History of Medicine at Newcastle is delivered by scholars with established international reputations in the field.

The MA in the History of Medicine incorporates 3 compulsory formal research training components (30 credits), during which students develop research skills and methodologies; a compulsory core module ‘Introduction to the History of Medicine’ (30 credits), and 2 special study options (60 credits); and it culminates in the completion of an intensively researched 14,000 word dissertation (60 credits). Study consists mainly of seminars, tutorials, workshops and independent learning.

The programme provides the necessary research training that will either link into further PhD and postgraduate academic study, or act as a stand alone MA. Candidates who have successfully completed the programme will be eligible to take part in the annual Wellcome Trust PhD studentship competition. The MA also provides the key skills and training for a wide range of careers both within and outside of Higher Education.

Eligibility: Applications for the studentship are invited from highly motivated graduates from various backgrounds including the Humanities and Social Sciences (e.g. History, Classics, Philosophy, Literature, Religious Studies, Archaeology, Psychology, Sciences, Sociology etc.). Applicants require a good (or predicted) undergraduate degree result (1st or high 2:1) in such a subject. Candidates with a medical background are also strongly encouraged to apply, and the studentship is open to current stage 4 Newcastle medical students who have opted to take the MA in the History of Medicine as an intercalated degree after stage 4 MBBS. Applications from overseas candidates with equivalent qualifications are also very welcome.

Application procedure: Applicants are asked to send: i) a CV and list of academic qualifications and experience; ii) a personal statement and letter of application outlining reasons for wanting to pursue postgraduate study in the history of medicine at Newcastle and highlighting specific research interests (max 300 words), iii) copies of any relevant certificates and transcripts, and (iv) letters of recommendation from two academic referees. Applications should be sent to the Postgraduate Secretary, Ms Sandra Fletcher, School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, to arrive no later than 30 April 2009.

For specific inquiries about the studentships and about the MA programme please contact:
Prof. P.J. van der Eijk
Degree Programme Director, MA in History of Medicine
School of Historical Studies & Northern Centre for the History of Medicine,
Newcastle UniversityArmstrong Building
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU
tel: (direct) 0191 222 8262;

For more information on the MA programme in History of Medicine at Newcastle see
For more information on the subject of History of Medicine at Newcastle see
For more information on the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine see
For information about postgraduate study in the School of Historical Studies contact the School's Postgraduate Secretary, Mrs Sandra Fletcher, at , tel. (+)44.191.2227966.

Prof. P. J. van der Eijk
School of Historical Studies
Newcastle University
Armstrong Building
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU

tel: (direct line) +44 (0) 191 222 8262
Visit the website at
(h/t H-DISABILITY listserv)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Photographing patients

There is a thoughtful essay on the ethics of photographing patients over at the Literature, Arts and Medicine Blog. Ana Bhlom raises a number of interesting issues, not only about privacy but about intellectual ownership and the dissolving of boundaries between fictionalisation and integrity.

She says: 'The ethical question in writing fiction, non-fiction, and creative non-fiction, is not necessarily about the propriety of using your patients as inspiration for artistic work–it has more to do with the subsequent dissemination of your aesthetic output. The issue becomes one of privacy and of authorship. If privacy is protected by changing recognizable facts, then at what point are the particulars altered so much that the distinction between fiction and non-fiction becomes absurd? If the fiction is tinted with the hue of a real interaction, then is the physician-writer guilty of thieving from her patients for the benefit of her characters?'

It's a good question, and good to see awareness being raised of this important issue. Sometimes anonymising patients and fictionalising details is disempowering in its appropriation of patients' stories. Yet, the uses to which images are put is increasingly difficult to control in a cut-and-paste world, and the meaning of image is dependent far more on its context than its content. Conversations about the way both stories and images are used need to be had, if possible, at the bedside. Bhlom's collaborative approach suggests a good way forward in negotiating the murky waters of documenting the patient encounter outside of a strictly medical environment.

Jo Spence (pictured) pointed out that the kinds of family snapshots we take tend to be present a very partial view of our lives. Family albums are filled with 'say cheese' type pictures. Illness is often a life-transforming experience and perhaps ought to be acknowledged in family histories more than it tends to be at the moment. How lovely that Ana Bhlom's patients often choose to display her photographs on their walls.