You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our site.

Desmond O’Neill

Desmond O’Neill: Elective Dreams

19 Aug, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillWith every elective student that joins our unit, I get a vivid flashback of my own electives. No matter how much water has flowed under the bridge since then, something particularly special endures about these less structured educational episodes. Even if undertaken in a local hospital, the elements of summer holiday, change of routine, and freshness suffuse the experience for both student and clinician.

My “formal” electives were a blast. Hamburg in the summer is green, leafy, and sunny—with water a constant presence from the huge harbour to the Alster lakes in the centre of the city. The first summer was spent in a large hospital there, St Georg, whose Wilhelmine ward blocks radiated the spirit of the great German pioneers of 19th century medicine. The second elective was in the racier setting of the small Harbour Hospital beside the red light district of the Reeperbahn, transvestites and sailors prominent among the clientele. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Blinded by science

27 Jun, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillThe newest architectural gem in Trinity College Dublin is the award winning Long Room Hub, a slim and elegant presence inserted among classical, neoclassical, and modern buildings.

Just as its many windows offer unexpected vistas on to this beautiful campus, the activities of the Hub have injected fresh energy into interdisciplinary research and public engagement with the arts and humanities disciplines. The key to its success is skillful leadership and curating, ably primed by its director, Professor Jürgen Barkhoff.

Last week, the Hub hosted the most substantive and successful foray to date in Ireland into research in the medical humanities. Often held hostage by an overemphasis on teaching medical students—and thereby prone to spurious, sickly, and overreaching statements on perceived impacts, such as fostering empathy—this field of research has a hugely important role in calibrating the vast enterprise of healthcare. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Some illuminations on caring for older people

4 Jun, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillGothenburg is a handsome city with imposing stone and brick buildings, simultaneously sober and ornamented, set among green hills falling to not one but two archipelagos.

It was particularly striking during the unseasonably fine weather that greeted the 22nd Nordic Gerontology Congress last week. This leading regional gerontology conference in Europe is biannual, broad in perspective, and meticulously organised.

Over 1100 delegates, mostly Nordic, attended this showcase for the remarkable progress that these countries have made in fostering research and education into ageing—including sociology, psychology, and the clinical sciences. Active PhD programmes are allied with a level of inter-institutional cooperation that few other regions of Europe match. For example, 11 universities in Sweden have developed the Swedish National Graduate School on Ageing and Health—a lead that many other European countries could do well to follow. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Expanding the imaginarium of ageing

23 Apr, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillMy most formative experience in gerontology was a student gap year in Marseille. A volunteer with Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, a charmingly radical organisation dedicated to improving life for older people, I was fascinated by their motto—les fleurs avant le pain. At first sight, the focus on flowers ahead of bread seemed twee. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Combatting rigidity in medicine

8 Apr, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillHigh quality films for children have a special place in our cultural landscape, an appeal which even embraces the medical humanities. To reach beyond children to the adults in their entourage requires a sure touch for tapping into the universal across the lifespan. In addition, many of the underlying fables are vehicles for deep and complex messages.

As teased out in Bruno Bettelheim’s remarkable Uses of Enchantment, the brooding themes of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries may allow children to come to terms with their fears and conflicts, particularly with parents and authority, in remote symbolic terms. more…

Desmond O’Neill on the power of cinema in discussing medical humanities

20 Feb, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillOne of the pleasures of academic medicine, and a salve for the gentle disorganisation of Irish medical schools, is the initiative, enthusiasm, and broad ranging interests of the medical students and trainees. A recent taste of this was a play on anorexia from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival hosted by medical students at Trinity College Dublin. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Transport and health

3 Feb, 14 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillThe Goldfinch, the eagerly awaited third novel of Donna Tartt, featured on many of our Christmas reading lists. As I devoured this wonderful repositioning of the Dickensian novel into the 21st century—with drug consumption taking the place of gin palaces—little did I imagine that it would also provide a fascinating prelude to my annual visit to the US Transportation Research Board (TRB) in Washington DC. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Food for thought

6 Dec, 13 | by BMJ

desmond_oneillMy knowledge of eating disorders stems less from my medical training than from vicarious insights into their ravages in the milieu of my teenage and young adult daughters. Yet not infrequently on post-take ward rounds I encounter those affected and am generally struck by an inarticulacy on both sides, and a mismatch between the medical setting and a complex and personal world of image, identity and anomie.

So I was delighted, if uncertain of my credentials, to be invited by our medical student society  to participate in a post-performance discussion of a play based on eating disorders, Close to You . My partner in crime, along with the author/performer Jennie Eggleton and director Anna Simpson, was Prof Jim Lucey, an articulate, entertaining and insightful psychiatrist and commentator. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Four helicopters and a string quartet

16 Oct, 13 | by BMJ

Desmond O'NeillUnlike last year, there was not a formal cultural event at this year’s European geriatric medicine congress. The organising committee may rightly have considered this superfluous with the glories of Venice at our doorstep. Indeed, large numbers of geriatricians were observed garnering informal extra-mural CPD at the many locations across the island displaying the wonderful late-life creativity of Titian,Tintoretto, and Bellini.

But culture takes many forms, and in a delightful expression of the Italian phrase “a tavola non si invecchia” (one doesn’t age at the table) there was a droll and insightful presentation at the opening session on “luxury ageing” by Arrigo Cipriani, the doyen of the celebrated Harry’s Bar, home of the other Bellini (prosecco and peach purée) and carpaccio. more…

Desmond O’Neill: Clinical glasshouses and stones

2 Oct, 13 | by BMJ

Desmond O'NeillOne of the positive aspects of working in smaller hospitals in Ireland is the professional mingling that takes place in local clinical societies. Living and working in a smaller pond means that consultants and GPs tend to know each other better. The mutual sympathy engendered for the challenges of working in other sectors of the fragmented Irish health services is a nice response to the worldwide issue of resolving tensions between primary and secondary care.

It is very different in Dublin, where often hospital consultants, particularly those largely engaged in public practice, and GPs might not recognise each other if they passed on the street. Activities in CPD have largely diverged along specialty lines, with little by way of cross-fertilisation between, say, the small-group activities of the Irish College of General Practitioners and the postgraduate activities of physicians. more…

BMJ blogs homepage

The BMJ

Helping doctors make better decisions. Visit site



Creative Comms logo

Latest from The BMJ

Latest from The BMJ

Latest from BMJ podcasts

Latest from BMJ podcasts

Blogs linking here

Blogs linking here