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Osler and his teaching: relevant today
  1. Terence J Ryan
  1. Correspondence to Terence J Ryan, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, 43 Woodstock Rd, Oxford OX2 6HG, UK; Userry282{at}

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The concept and development of postgraduate medicine owes much to one outstanding physician: Sir William Osler (1849–1919). Born in Canada he trained as a physician in Montreal and established a reputation as a skilled and popular diagnostician and teacher. Invited as a young doctor to practice and teach at the Medical School in Philadelphia, he was a few years later appointed as the first physician to St Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, a medical school founded with the objective of being the best and most innovative medical school in the USA. Osler’s textbook, Principles and Practice of Medicine first published in 1892, and frequently revised and translated into several languages, was the leading medical textbook for half a century and in many respects it remains relevant to today's practitioners.

Medical students have long been taught through lectures, by reading books and journals and as ‘apprentices’ by observing experienced practitioners. Osler, in contrast, took a patient-centred approach to teaching. By teaching at the bedside, he was able to demonstrate, watch and assess students as they examined patients, blood and urine samples using ward microscopes, and, following death, he discussed postmortem findings. Such a student and patient-centred approach contributed to his popularity as a teacher. He was also the author of many seminal papers and as an avid reader of medical texts his publications were richly referenced.

Osler’s reputation as a fine teacher and author spread beyond Canada and the USA. He visited and discussed medicine with the leading physicians of France, Germany and Great Britain. In 1905, he was invited to become the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University. In Oxford, he taught medical students weekly at the Radcliffe Infirmary, took every opportunity to increase his medical library by purchases in London and by collaboration with the Bodleian Library and he …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Since last year the Postgraduate Medical Journal has been a silver sponsor of this conference and this issue is available to all conference delegates at ICRE 2015.