Esteemed brain surgeon discusses his success

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On 30th April, Newcastle University welcomed Doctor Henry Marsh, a leading English neurosurgeon and pioneer of advances in neurosurgical advances in the Ukraine.

The lecture was titled ‘Brain surgery and other stories’ and was part of the University’s Insight Lecture series of free public lectures. Dr. March started by discussing brain surgeries and the importance and delicate nature in which they are performed, explaining how that every brain surgery ultimately causes damage to the brain and that being a neurosurgeon centres around deciding if the good that could come from the surgery outweighs the risk and damage entailed in the surgery. He followed that by discussing how patients must in fact be awake in order to assess damage whilst conducting the surgery, and that during these surgeries he will ask the patient if they would like to see their own brain, to which the answer is rarely yes.

Dr. Marsh actually began as a student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University and only later studied Medicine at the Royal Free Medical School. He explained his drive to not only study Medicine but also to specialise as a neurosurgeon stemmed from a want for excitement and drama, a love of patient care, a fascination with the brain, power and money, and an inspiring teacher. He did, however, draw attention to other things that have come of his experience in the field: fear, guilt, shame and anxiety. He described the main difficulties of brain surgery, which most people would assume to be conducting the actual surgery itself, yet he argued that the decision-making in surgery is only one of the many difficult things. Dr. Marsh explained that balancing the empathy and detachment to a patient on the operating table, getting on with colleagues, and dealing with patients and their families when a surgery is not successful are also major contributors to the difficulty of the job. Sir William Osler, a Canadian physician known to some as “The Father of Modern Medicine”, once said “Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability,” an idea that Dr Marsh finds a lot of truth in.

Dr. Marsh categorises medical writing into two main genres: that of the “satirical kiss and tell, shock and horror” often told by junior doctors, and those of triumph and success found in those written by more senior doctors. Dr. Marsh, however, describes that he has been credited with “starting a whole new medical genre” in that it talks of success, but also of failure and the price that comes along with it for patient and physician.

Dr. Marsh is currently writing an educational book aimed at children which focuses on the brain and aims to capture children’s desire to learn more about the world around them and themselves in it. He doesn’t plan to do anymore medical memoirs, but if that sort of reading is of interest they are titled: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, and Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery.

Last modified: 13th May 2019

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