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Osler Centenary Papers: Osler the clinician and scientist: a personal and historical perspective
  1. Terence Ryan
  1. Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Terence Ryan, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK; terence.ryan2020{at}

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Osler demonstrated two cultures in his practice, in accordance with the conventions of his time: humanity and science. He was aware that ill health is best managed by one who is both ‘a scientist and a humanist in one’. (This was the title of seminars that took place at 13 Norham Gardens Oxford, his former home, to celebrate the Osler centenary. See figure 1.) In terms of humanity, his friendliness was itself therapeutic. As for science, his accurate observations of symptoms in the living, and of signs in both the living and dead, were more numerous. well described and analysed than ever before. Those who state nowadays that there are two separate cultures that do not speak to each other should recall Osler’s last communication to be published in the British Medical Journal: ‘The old humanities and the new science’.1 Here, he complained himself that the culture of humanities in Oxford, while embracing the philosophy of ancient Greeks, was giving too little attention to their contributions to science. Later, CP Snow2 and others such as the American philanthropist John McGovern3 discussed how these two cultures should both be embraced by practicing physicians I will reinterpret these as the ‘attitude of care’ and the ‘technology of care’. Osler was the greatest exponent of both in his time, deserving the claim that he was both a bringer of cheer and a scientist in what he brought to the bedside, rather more than most of his contemporaries.

Figure 1

13 Norham Gardens, built in 1870.

Much has been written about Osler the clinician and it is no longer easy to find something new to say. One such attempt was in a recent article by a contemporary student of ethics and his supervisor in Melbourne, Fiddes and Komesaroff was entitled ‘An emperor …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note Terence Ryan is Emeritus Professor of Dermatology at the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford, and archivist of the History of Medicine at the home of Sir William Osler at 13 Norham Gardens, Oxford.