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The BMJ Today: Late nights with Iain Chalmers

12 May, 14 | by BMJ Group

David Payne “Tired” pupils aged over 16 at a private school in Surrey are to start lessons at 1.30pm.  The school’s headteacher Guy Holloway says the move is based on research by neuroscientists which says that teenagers have a biological predisposition to go to bed later and get up later, and better sleep in teenage years is linked to better mental health. Anna May Mangan, author of Getting in to Medical School – The Pushy Mother’s Guidelocked horns with Mr Holloway on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday. She argued that accommodating a teenage tendency to go to bed late and sleep in means teenagers have less time to do voluntary work and other activities that enhance their career prospects.

Ms Mangan’s words were in my mind as I read researcher Tara Lamont’s BMJ blog about One Man’s Medicine, Archie Cochrane’s memoir. Lamont compares this “unclubbable” giant of evidence based medicine to Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement.

The two had protracted routes into medicine. Cochrane’s distractions were the Spanish Civil War, working through complex adult relationships after a strict upper class Calvinist childhood, and chasing his psychoanalyst around Europe. In Saunders case it was two career false starts—social work and nursing.

Lamont writes: “I was thinking of this as the pressure seems even greater now for our teenage children to make directed choices, and compile mini dossiers of activity and unblemished achievement even before they reach college.

“What place is there for those who (like Archie) need time to stumble, and struggle, and try many paths before finding work where they can make a difference?”

Google tells me that people who search for Cochrane also search for Iain Chalmers, recipient of The BMJ lifetime achievement award last week and a founder of the Cochrane collaboration, named in Archie’s honour.

This year we have published a glossy brochure of all the winners which you can access here, but we have also published this profile of Chalmers as a separate article, and Tom Moberly has filed a third story about his attack on waste in medical academia after accepting his award from open data campaigner Ben Goldacre. The two of them attended the post-awards party and sat talking to each other late into the night.

To find out more about the “guilty, obsessional, and frustrated” Chalmers and his work, read his BMJ Confidential entry. In it Chalmers describes his worst mistake as withholding antibiotics from Palestinian children with measles, a regret he voiced again in his acceptance speech last week.

He might also dismay Anna May Mangan, since he confesses to “scraping” into medical school and failing his second MBBS physiology exam after having too much of a good time in swinging ’60s London.

David Payne is editor, bmj.com, and readers’ editor

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