Being impersonated by Peter Cook must be an honour held by few doctors, aside perhaps from Cook’s Beyond the Fringe colleague Jonathan Miller, who trained as a neuropathologist. Similarly, having an Obituary in The BMJ written by an award winning novelist and historian is not an everyday occurrence.
Somewhat in contrast to these elevated celebrations, Stephen Sebag-Montefiore, who has achieved both these distinctions, was renowned for emphasising the everyday normality of most medical conditions. “He was impossible to shock and non-judgmental, usually concluding, whether to patients or his own children, ‘Don’t worry—that’s perfectly normal’,” Simon Sebag-Montefiore says in his Obituary of his father.
In fact, Simon writes, this phrase was the basis of the sketch in which Cook played Stephen alongside Dudley Moore as a patient who “confessed ever more outrageous desires,” to which Cook replied: “Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.”
The phrase might fit well with many people’s views of the shift from reading the printed word to perpetually reading on screens. But Martin Tobin warns in a Personal View piece of what is lost when doctors try to answer difficult questions using electronic resources.
“Clinical reasoning depends on asking the apposite question among many contenders—that question which segues into selecting the best choice of therapy rather than less effective alternatives,” he says. “To think that a smartphone can find the best question is putting the cart before the horse. Skill in clinical reasoning depends on a physician’s storehouse of knowledge, the foundation for which is established by deep reading of books rather than scrolling online.”
Tom Moberly is careers editor for The BMJ.