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Year in Review

Has it really been a year? From defining disease to defining life, from ‘Bad Doctors’ to Alexander Pope, this year we’ve covered a range of topics, scrutinised our roles as doctors (and vets!) and finally, tapped into our creative sides. 

We kicked the year off by diving headfirst into ‘History and Philosophy of Medicine’, led by Dr Jonathan Grose. This unit stripped medicine back to its core ideology, by questioning the very definition of disease. We delved deep into the biological and metaphysical constituents of disease, whilst examining the ethical implications of defining various conditions as diseases; for example, is a pregnant individual one organism, or one organism with a separate organism feeding off them for its own gain? I’m not sure they’d be too happy about a bunch of philosophy students calling their baby a parasite, but if the shoe fits…

When we weren’t causing offense to mothers everywhere, we were being eased back into English with our ‘Critical Issues’ unit; an introductory unit which outlined key debates in literature. Rather than close analysis of texts, we used our core and supplementary reading to shape our views on prominent arguments, such as: where does a book begin and end? Does authorial intent really matter, or should we separate the art from the artist? Why do readers desire to read, and writers desire to write? What is a ‘true reading’ of a text, and can we ever achieve it? 

In our second term we looked at ‘Death, Dying and Disease’; we questioned what it means to die, whether humans should concern themselves with thoughts of death, how various philosophers thought we should achieve fulfilling lives, and whether it would be better to be immortal. What does immortality mean, anyway? We then moved onto how society views illness, whether ‘health’ can ever be achieved, and why these so-called ‘healthy’ people have a tendency to view illness as an incomplete, inferior form of life. Personally, I rounded it off with an essay questioning whether it would have been better to have never been brought into existence in the first place, and promptly fell into an existential crisis – I finally feel like a true philosopher!

Luckily, I had ‘Literature and Medicine’ to drag me away from my existentialism, with its insightful discussions of depictions of medicine and illness in literature throughout various time periods and health epidemics. From Keats’s consumption which shaped his letters and poetry, to first-hand accounts of living through the emergence of AIDs, we were able to catch glimpses of past tragedies and life with a terminal – and stigmatised – illness. We looked at Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde to gain insight into the fears surrounding scientific and medical progress, and the complex – and often opposing – emotions which exist within the patient experience. 

Alongside these units, we had our weekly Oakhill sessions, run by John, Gareth and Catherine: the golden trio! Gareth put the spotlight on us by assigning presentations, honing our public speaking skills whilst expanding our knowledge of medical history and warning us of the devastating effects corruption can have in a profession which holds so much power. We gave presentations on doctors who abused their positions - such as Harold Shipman, who murdered approximately 250 patients, and unethical experiments such as Unit 731 – and on drugs which ultimately did more harm than good due to lack of regulation – cheerful stuff! 

Our sessions with Catherine were equally thought provoking, looking at art pieces by patients who felt they could not express their emotions through words alone, and discussing Bristol’s rich history of advocacy for disabled rights. As a newcomer to Bristol, Catherine introduced me to M-shed and the Arnolfini, both of which I’ve returned to frequently outside of university work, and would recommend to anyone looking for things to do in Bristol! She also guided us through the process of creating this exhibition, encouraging our creativity in any way possible – a lovely break from the intensity of human experiments… (sorry Gareth!)

Finally, we had sessions led by John; always interesting though never quite running smoothly, he definitely kept us on our toes this year! Our first session was on empathy; the night before John sent us 3 papers to read: one medium length paper and two short ones – manageable enough. Imagine our dismay when we opened the files to find, indeed, one medium length paper, ONE short paper and ‘oh my god this paper is 32 pages long’. Like the diligent students we are, we ploughed through all three of them, only for John to realise at the session the next day that he had attached the VERY long paper instead of the lovely 2-page paper he had meant to. The horror on his face when he noticed is one of the highlights of my year. Regardless, the debates surrounding the role of empathy in medicine went without a hitch and we were all able to make more well-rounded arguments as a result of the mistake, so all’s well that end’s well! John’s guidance this year has been priceless, and despite a few minor hiccups (we won’t mention tea at the Lido…), he’s always been on-hand to answer any questions and ensure that we are all happy with the course – you won’t find anyone who answers emails quicker.

Overall, this year has been a wonderful, eye-opening digression from the rigidity of medicine. I feel – and I believe the others would agree – that I have a more well-rounded view of medicine, and am more aware of debates and issues within the profession, as well as lived experiences of patients. A massive thank you to John, Catherine and Gareth for directing us through this course – it’s been an unforgettable year. 

Carlotta Clare

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