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‘As the old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and slinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun. “But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish” countered the other. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one”, he said.’
The above story is the late David Baum's contribution to Twice Daily after Meals1—a work compiled by Dr SK Goolamali, with royalties destined for the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund. More than sixty celebrated individuals obligingly provided a piece of wit or wisdom or both, along with a biography and a photograph. (Sometimes the biographies dwarf the W&W.) If David Baum represents wisdom, wit is perhaps best served by Tony Benn with his story of a boat race between crews from Japan and the National Health Service (the NHS boat, which lost, had eight people steering and one rowing...). Support the RMBF and find this anecdote on p. 39.
A Flickering Lamp2 is David Hay's history of the Sydenham Medical Club, a dining club for London consultants that began in the late 1700s as the Monday Medical Club, with numbers limited to six physicians, six surgeons and six apothecaries. Although the membership has included some great names of medicine—Bright, Liston, Rosenheim—it seems that the criterion for entry was clubbability rather than intellectual stature or reforming zeal (also, so far, no women). What did the members talk about at their dinners? Alas the records tell us very little, though a flavour emerges from lists of wagers, seemingly a favourite activity in the 1800s. For example, in 1854 Henry Lee bets Edward Tegart 3 to 1 ‘that Miss Nightingale is not married by the next meeting’. This probably means that Tegart had to buy the wine. Mr Hay writes pleasingly, but the book is based largely on material from external sources and lacks meat for the serious historian. It will doubtless appeal to the friends and families of present members and to the descendants of past members whose biographies appear. The Club and its survival might also be of interest to anthropologists.
Early Medical Schools in Nigeria, by Adelola Adeloye3, begins with the story of Africanus Beale Horton, who in 1858 was one of the first Africans to qualify in medicine from a British school. Returning to West Africa as an Army surgeon, Horton begged the British government to establish a school in Sierra Leone for the training of Africans as medical doctors. The request was refused and until the 1930s medical education in British West Africa was achieved largely through the efforts of Christian missionaries. The first Nigerian medical school, at Yaba, began in 1930 and offered a four-year course. Staffing and facilities were poor and the licentiates were perceived to be (and paid as if) inferior to those trained in the UK. This generated much rage: in Adeloye's judgment, ‘Perhaps the most outstanding contribution of the Yaba Medical School... was the development of political consciousness’. Yaba closed in 1948 when a new medical school opened in Ibadan, affiliated to London University. Another school opened at Kano in 1955 but soon closed after producing 18 graduates. The book is mainly about Ibadan, where Adeloye was Professor of Neurological Surgery—its ups and down, the great characters on the staff (many of British extraction), the impressive graduates. Since Independence in 1960, Nigeria has set up twelve more medical schools, and he is worried about uneven standards and student wastage. Part of the answer, he thinks, is a national qualifying professional examination akin to the old British Conjoint, with an emphasis on clinical competence rather than textbook knowledge.