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The Osler Society

of Greater Kansas City

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                           Why We Need Osler Today


     Today’s medical schools are wonderful institutions of learning.In Kansas City, we are fortunate to have two of the very best, KU and UMKC.  Hopefully, any one who graduates from one of these schools will have learned the technical skills necessary to practice medicine.

     But that is only the beginning.  Hopefully, they will aspire to something higher.  Doctors must also learn the non-technical skills that we call the art of medicine.  Medical schools do their best to teach this, but in a very crowded curriculum, priority must be given to the absolute basic necessities.  For the safety of the patient, the doctor must first be professionally competent.  So, the non-technical skills that make for the best doctors must largely be developed through experience.

    The Hippocratic Oath requires that we pass on this art to those who come after us.  The John Locke Society of Greater Kansas City is an organization of retired physicians who believe that we can help in this endeavor.  We have the time, the experience, and the desire to assist students in their quest to become good doctors.  Most doctors are teachers at heart and welcome the opportunity to work with students.  And, if the truth be known, it is a very pleasant and rewarding experience.

In May, 2009, representatives of KUMC, UMKC and the John Locke Society formed a working group to develop a student organization called the Osler Society of Greater Kansas City.  After nine months of gestation, this baby was born on Feb 26, 2010.  Its purpose is to create a vehicle to provide support and encouragement to medical students.

Please see our website at: or go to and select the Osler website.

Why the Osler Society?   The previous speakers have told you who Osler was.  In one sentence, he was probably the greatest physician of the nineteenth century.  He lives on through his writings and speeches, which were elegant, clear, concise, and beautiful.  There is not a wasted word.  He is a joy to read, not only for substance, but for entertainment.  He speaks to us over the years as if he were standing in the room.  It is said that clear writing is a function of clear thinking and Osler was a master of both.  That is why his textbook, “Principles and Practice of Medicine”, was so popular for over thirty years.  Medicine has changed a great deal in the ninety years since his death, but most of his writings are as meaningful today as they were then. If you leave here today with nothing more than two words, I hope they are, “Read Osler“.

Again, why the Osler Society?  Because Sir William Osler is an absolutely perfect role model for an aspiring physician.   He was able to handle the rigors of everyday practice, teach, write a textbook, participate in the activities of his community, and lead an exemplary family life.  He was the complete package. He was the doctors doctor,the teachers teacher.  He was an excellent physician who cared deeply about his patients, took great pride in the accomplishments of his students, and was always interested in medical education.  He made it a center-piece of his life to befriend students and house staff and to make their education more meaningful. On top of all that, he seems to have missed none of the pleasures of life.  He liked to share the company of his students and have some fun.  There were many Saturday night dinners and Sunday afternoon teas at his home.

Osler was adored by his students.  His secret was simple. He cared about them and was willing to share his life with them.  What student couldn’t use a little of that kind of care today?

Sir William died in 1919.  In case you are wondering, I was not one of his students nor am I his press agent.  However, I did attend the University of Kansas School of Medicine many years ago, where most of my teachers were among his disciples.  I was given a copy of a little green book, “Aequanimitas”, which is a collection of his speeches.  If you read Osler, he will become your friend.  He helped me get through medical school.  Sixty years later, he is still my friend and companion.  When I get a little discouraged, thirty minutes with him never fails to inspire me and remind me why I became a doctor.

I have told you what Osler has done for me.The important question is what can he do for you today?  How can we apply Osler’s concepts to the modern world?

First, he gives us a set of standards by which we can measure our performance.  None of us will ever attain the perfection that he achieved, but he shows us the goal toward which we can strive.

Second, he makes a great super-ego.  When you are in training, someone else makes the life and death decisions.When you are in practice, it will be you.If, when faced with an ethical dilemma, you ask yourself, “what would Osler do?”, you won’t go far wrong.

Third, by his example, he has shown us how to be a good doctor.  He has shown us what a person, through hard work and discipline, can accomplish.

And, he has taught us to temper our technical enthusiasm with human compassion and care for the patient.

Since our baby is still in infancy, we have started with small steps.  We have asked for and received six volunteer students from each school to work with us on some pilot projects.  We hope that this experience will be valuable to these students, but we also hope that in working with them we be able to find out what we can do to develop activities that will be of interest to all students.

The Osler Society is a student organization.  Medical students today have little time to waste.  No one is required to participate in the Osler Society, This is an opportunity for students to express their initiative and leadership talents.  It is an opportunity for a new organization to add flavor to the steady diet of the medical school curriculum.  We think it is an opportunity to learn something and have some fun at the same time.  It is also an opportunity to learn that nothing in life is free.  Things worth having are things worth working for.

Our current plans call for a meeting like this each fall at KUMC and a similar meeting each spring at UMKC.  We think it is good that students of both schools will get a chance to meet and get acquainted.  We will discuss topics of interest and there will be occasional outside guests.  But, in time, we hope to be able to do much more.

It is an honor and a privilege to be admitted to the world’s greatest profession and to have the opportunity to live a life of service. A medical education is a good start, but it is only the beginning.  Speaking now to students, you must continue to improve your technical skills.  But, if you want to become a doctor in the real sense of the word and not just a skilled technician, you must broaden your education to include the arts as well as the sciences. You must get to know a little bit about the human condition.  It helps greatly in understanding your patient’s problems and adds to the enjoyment of your life.We hope the Osler Society will help you do this.

We wish you all a life of success and happiness.  We hope you will cherish being a part of this profession as much as we have.  Just remember that all of us owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us and a debt of honor to those who follow us.  This is one way to pay it and I know you will.


Sherman M. Steinzeig, MD

September 16, 2010