Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Doctors without physics…

In what is an absurd suggestion, Ezekial Emanuel has suggested that medical schools cease requiring physics, organic chemistry, and calculus for incoming students, arguing that doctors never use those subjects in the daily practice of medicine. It is hard to overstate the absurdity of this suggestion. On the one hand, even if his claim was true (which it is not), the critical thinking skills one learns in those three classes, especially physics, are invaluable. As a colleague of mine argued yesterday, if you can make it through those courses, statistics and ethics ought to be a breeze (not to imply those courses are cakewalks, but that physics, organic chemistry, and calculus are excellent preparation).

Aside from that, his claim is just patently false. With advances in medical technology increasingly more complex it seems ridiculous for future doctors not to have a basic understanding of the principles behind this technology. Well-established equipment such as NMR and MRI require a knowledge of basic physics if one is to understand them properly. This is aside from the very basic knowledge of mechanics that just might be useful for kinesiology, orthopedics, etc. And how are doctors going to properly communicate with the physicists and engineers who are attempting to develop new technologies? Take, for example, the cover story for this month’s Physics Today discussing advances in prosthetics. At the very least, having had a course in physics, doctors working with physicists and engineers should be able to speak their language. And if there was any doubt about the importance of this, most hospitals now employ physicists in radiology departments and it is possible to obtain a degree in Medical Physics.

Besides, whatever happened to learning for its own sake?