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Who we are and what we do

The William Osler Society for Medical Education was founded in 2017 by a small group of medical students to provide resources and help to any medical students interested in medical education. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that there is a high quality, student led teaching throughout Oxford medical school and that any Oxford student who wishes to pursue a career in medical education is enabled to do so. We would also like to better enable teaching by junior doctors to medical students and to use teaching to improve access to the Oxford medicine course.

In our first months, we have obtained a membership of over 100 and held a regional teaching event which taught 70 pre-clinical students. We have also created a website that hosts a range of teaching resources and we now have links with Osler House, Oxford Clinical school, the Oxford Learning Institute and JASME. Finally, we have helped get two teaching projects underway: one has created a surgical education booklet for clinical students and the other is providing clinical anatomy teaching for medical students.

In the remainder of our inaugural year, we are co-ordinating the Med Ed 2 programme in Oxford and we hope to put up a number of teaching workshops for clinical students and carry on our projects.

Medical Education

Medical education focusses on the education of medical practitioners at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. At its core is teaching but it is an academic field in its own right with a rich literature on the comparison of different course structures and teaching methodologies. As well as the delivery of teaching, doctors interested in this field will be heavily involved in the design of courses, workshops and degrees and the very best will seek to produce novel research on new teaching ideas and methods in an attempt to move the field further on.

Oxford students interested in medical education specifically will want to try and get involved in teaching other medical students whilst at university whilst also gathering feedback and reflecting on their teaching. There are several student societies which do student led teaching and one can also join the Osler Society for Medical Education as well as the Junior Association for the Study of Medical Education which is a national body. There are also often teaching workshops and courses available within a university.

After medical school, there are a number of medical education themed academic foundation programmes throughout the country that one can apply to.

William Osler

William Osler (July 12, 1849 – December 29, 1919) was a Canadian physician who held the Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford University and was a founding professor of medicine at John Hopkins Medical School. He is considered by many as the father of the modern medicine and as one of the greatest diagnosticians of all time.

Osler was born and raised in Ontario and spent much of his early life working towards joining the ministry like his father before him. However, after enrolling at Trinity college, he became increasingly interested in natural history with early publications on algae and parasites. From there he would become interested in medical science and he switched his career path in 1868, enrolling at the Toronto School of Medicine. He would then go on to the better medical school at the McGill Faculty of Medicine where he received his doctorate in medicine in 1872. He achieved a good but not outstanding academic record.

Osler spent two years in Europe, initially flirting with a career in ophthalmology in London before studying pathology in Berlin and Vienna. Having aspired to a teaching career, he was then invited back to McGill University to take up a clinical lectureship in 1974 at the unusually young age of 25. He would spend the next ten years there teaching on a range of topics before finally being elected as an attending physician at Montreal General hospital in 1877 before going on to pass the membership exam at the Royal College of Physicians in London, where he was later made an honorary fellow.

In 1884, Osler was elected President of the Canadian Medical Association and he would then travel to Germany to explore the work of Koch and others, having taken an interest in the groundbreaking germ theory. Whilst there he was invited to interview for the Chair of  Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, he was given the role and quickly became a student favourite. In this time, he would help to co-found the Association of American Physicians, an honorific society electing members based on outstanding contribution to biomedical research. Osler spoke frequently at the time on the future of medicine lay in the application of science.

In 1888, Osler would depart Philadelphia to readily accept a position as Physician-in-Chief at the newly founded John Hopkins hospital where the creation of a medical school was anticipated. Awaiting the opening of the school, Osler proceeded to write Principles and Practice of Medicine, one of the last single author textbooks covering all of medicine. When the medical school finally opened in 1893, Osler was by far the most energetic of its founding Professors of medicine helping to pioneer the world’s first formal residency programme (the concept where much of a hospital’s staff is made up of doctors in training spending most of their time on site) and his own idea of clinical clerkship, where students were taken away from lectures and exposed to bedside teaching at a far earlier stage of their training than had previously been seen. William Osler became a pioneer in bedside teaching and the teaching of clinical examination and even commented that all he desired on his epitaph was that he taught students in the wards as he felt this was his most important contribution to medicine. During these years, Osler also became a prodigious publisher of case studies and clinical papers as well as a renowned orator.

This frantic period would seemingly draw to a close with the turn of the century and seeking a quieter pace of life and having always enjoyed England, Osler chose to take up the recently vacated Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford University, a prestigious but modestly paid position with a Christchurch college fellowship attached. He and his wife bought an old victorian house at 13 Norham Gardens upon their arrival to Oxford which quickly became known as “the Open Arms” such was the frequency at which they hosted visiting scholars and students.

As there was no medical school yet in place at Oxford, Osler spent much of his time as an eponymous speaker and quickly became revered in British medicine. Ironically, he became quite busy as the Regius Chair: delivering lectures to societies across the country; co-authoring another comprehensive textbook, Systems of Medicine; co-founding a new journal, the Quarterly Journal of Medicine; and helping to found the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

Osler also sought to encourage furthering science and medical teaching at Oxford as well as to implement changes to medical education in Britain. He was particularly concerned by the dissociation of pre-clinical and clinical teaching and the new idea of full-time academic clinicians who would only conduct teaching and research. Instead, Osler advocated an ideal professional who would have three duties: “to see that the patients are well treated, to investigate disease, and to teach students and nurses”. This ideal brought together his core beliefs in the sense that medicine could only advance with science but that this science had to be applied according to clinicians in the field with the best clinicians having in turn been taught by clinicians from an early stage.

The first world war would see William Osler serve as a consultant in local military hospitals and relief agencies but would end tragically as he lost his son in the conflict in 1917, a loss from which he never really recovered with his own health already failing. In the last years of his life, Osler frequently suffered from respiratory infections and the transformation of one into a pulmonary abscess proved to be fatal in December 1919. At the time of his death, William Osler was undoubtedly the most famous physician in the English speaking world and he would continue his legacy not only in the texts and speeches he had written but also with his enormous collection of accrued medical literature which he bequeathed to his alma mater, McGill university, and which now resides in the Osler Library there.


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