Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Alannah Tomkins's "Medical Misadventure"

Alannah Tomkins is a Professor in History at Keele University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Medical Misadventure in an Age of Professionalisation, 1780-1890, and reported the following:
Medical Misadventure is a book about the ways that professionalising doctors disappointed themselves and others in their attempts to become successful practitioners. Page 99 reflects this intention poignantly, as it falls in a chapter about professional disappointment among men who accepted postings in the Indian Medical Service (IMS).

The IMS had the advantage of offering qualified practitioners a reliable salary at a time when the rewards of medicine could be very uncertain. The British profession was heavily overstocked in the first half of the nineteenth century, so a medical degree might be a pathway to poverty rather than to a lucrative career. In this context a guaranteed income in one’s own preferred field of employment might look attractive; but service in India carried penalties too. It demanded an enforced removal from Britain for years at a time. Entitlement to leave might only come after nine or ten years in post, and the ability to take advantage of that entitlement might depend on the doctor’s having saved enough money to afford it. Men had to supply their own servants – an essential lifestyle feature for the British in India – and find that their salary was dependable but meagre in context. Page 99 dwells on these points, and later pages flag additional drawbacks. Frequent changes of posting meant that friendships could be fleeting and unsatisfactory, rivalries with fellow doctors for well-paid work could be intense, and the risk of dying in Asia was relatively high.

These reflections on professionalising medicine are important because, to date, the historical narrative has placed strong emphasis on success and progress rather than failure and disappointment. Doctors might have met every increasing expectation, from within and without the profession, with dignity and competence; however, lots of men suffered temporary setback or permanent curtailment of their careers in the attempt to become the perfect professional. This book tells their stories and urges for a more prominent place for understandable human failure in medicine, both past and present.
Learn more about Medical Misadventure at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue