Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Town v. Gown: no doubt about it

These days, older physicians and emeritus faculty from the medical school talk about town-gown tensions in abstractions, debating whether there really was any tension, how bad it was or how exaggerated. Through the lens of hindsight, it can be difficult to determine the extent of the problem or its nature. A report from the 1956 annual meeting of the Oregon State Medical Society, published in the June 1956 issue of Northwest Medicine, puts the issue to rest.

The Committee on the Study of the University of Oregon Medical School and Affiliated Institutions delivered its report, a scathing indictment of many activities, policies, and trends at the UOMS. In a section entitled "Decline of Good Relations," the committee spelled out the townies' beef against the Hill:
In recent years there has been a marked deterioration in the relations of our Medical School with the downtown physicians who have comprised the volunteer faculty. A number of volunteer teachers have resigned. Others have ceased to serve without submitting formal resignations.
There are several causes for the present bad relations including:
1. Lack of appreciation or recognition of the contributions of volunteers who have given long years of service to build up the Medical School.
2. Complete ignoring of the volunteers by some full-time department and division heads in the planning of teaching programs.
3. The elimination of or change in the teaching assignments of volunteers without consultation with them.
4. The primary interest of some full-time heads and faculty members in utilizing the prestige of their Medical School positions to develop lucrative private practices rather than to carry out their teaching and research functions.
5. Cooperation of some full-time heads who engage in private practice in blatant newspaper publicity extolling their personal attainments and the special facilities available in their departments or divisions.
I leave it to the reader to judge whether or which of these charges was wholly the conscious fault of the Medical School and to what extent the changes outlined by the Committee may have been manifestations of larger medical, economic, or societal trends.

The report does also clear up one other puzzling item: the definition of "geographic full-time," a term often applied in the past to some medical faculty. The Committee finds that "the term, 'geographic full-time,' has been coined by medical educators to describe a faculty member who devotes only a portion of his time to teaching and research and is permitted to carry on a private practice using the medical school's office space and its diagnostic, treatment, and hospital facilities, as well as the personal services of the medical school's residents and other auxiliary personnel. The term 'geographic,' presumes the the faculty member is on the medical school campus during his entire work period and thus accessible to the students at all times, even though his full time is not spent in teaching and research."

So, now you know! I don't, however, recommend that you use this term on your boss the next time you're caught spending too much time at the water cooler.

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