Speaker Addresses the Incoming Medical School Class on “The Quiet Art”

The weekend of August 16th marked a celebration for St. George’s University School of Medicine (SGUSOM) and Northumbria University’s School of Applied Sciences (NU) as they welcomed a new class of medical students into the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program (KBTGSP).  This class, the fifth consecutive, has 147 students from 12 countries, a significant increase from the 54 students in the January ‘07 charter class. The White Coat Ceremony marks the beginning of medical studies as the official entry into the profession of medicine.   Students don the white coat, a symbol of their chosen profession, and swear a professional oath, promising to act with integrity and in an ethical manner during their training and careers in medicine.

kbt white coat group

The Keynote Speaker was Professor Sir Miles Irving, Professor of Surgery at the University of Manchester and Consultant Surgeon at Hope Hospital Salford for 25 years.  Professor Irving, in his addressed entitled, “The Not so Quiet Art: Medicine in the 21st Century” explored the ethical responsibility and generosity of spirit which is at the core of the medical profession.  He continued to say that courage, humility and generosity of spirit must be ever present in the doctor patient relationship, expressing that these “quiet aspects of medical practice are as important today, in this era of high technology medicine, as they have ever been.”

To further his message, Professor Irving referred to two powerful pieces of art, one a well-known late-Victorian painting by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (1844-1927) and the other a literary piece by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Doctor, which hangs in Britain’s Tate Gallery, is a beautiful work that conveys on canvas a physician’s compassion and concern for a young patient.  In the background you see daylight entering the window indicating that the child has survived the night.  Professor Irving’s own interpretation of the image was that while the doctor most likely did not know what was wrong with the child, and with equal certainty was not able to do anything about it, the physician was there bringing comfort to the child and family.  He then raised the question,” What did the public of that time think of such doctors who had little to offer but kindness and compassion?” To answer this he referred to Stevenson, who wrote of the physician, “He is the flower of our civilization… who most notably exhibits the virtues of the race.  Generosity he has, such is possible to those who practice an art.  So that he brings air and cheer into the sickroom, and often enough, though not as often as he wishes, brings healing.”

Professor Sir Miles Irving effectively, and with deep sincerity, illustrated to the incoming class the vital importance of balancing the clinical aspects of medicine with the ‘Quiet’.  To ignore the ‘Quiet’, he says, “Will be missing out on just those aspects of our work that make our occupation so enjoyable and memorable.”

The Master of Ceremonies was SGU alumni Dr. John Madden who also serves as our Associate Dean of Students, United States and Director, Office of Student Development and Career Guidance. A native New Yorker, Dr. Madden joined the second class of SGU medical students in August 1977.  Dr. Madden practices emergency medicine at the Christian Care Health System in Delaware.  He was President of the Medical Staff from 2005-2007, is currently Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors, and leads the hospital’s flight crew team. He and his wife of 28 years, Janet, have two children, Andrew, 21 and Patrick, 16.

Chancellor Charles R. Modica welcomed the students to St. George’s, Northumbria University and Newcastle, and the profession of medicine.  This year’s White Coat had particular significance as it also marked the close of the Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program Inaugural Parents’ Weekend.  For two days, family, friends and loved ones of the students were welcomed by SGU and NU with tours of the campus and its beautiful surroundings, presentations by both faculty and KBTGSP students and an evening boat cruise along the River Tyne.  The staff of both institutions worked tirelessly to assure a seamless weekend filled with informative and entertaining events which conveyed both SGU and NU’s commitment to the KBTGSP students and program.

Professor Sir Miles Irving is a Past President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland and Past President of the Association of Coloproctology.  He was Regional Director of Research and Development for the northwest of England and National Director of Health Technology Assessment for the Department of Health.

During Sir Irving’s tenure as Professor of Surgery at the University of Manchester and Consultant Surgeon at Hope Hospital Salford for 25 years,  he was also Advisor in Surgery to the Chief Medical Officer of England and to the army.  His White Coat Ceremony address drew upon the literary compilation of well-known Liverpool physician and medical editor Robert Coope’s “The Quiet Art”.  This anthology was given to Professor Irving by the author himself, and has served him as a constant support throughout his fifty year career in medicine.

Since retiring to Newcastle he has served as Chairman of the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust for eight years and as a governor of both Northumbrian d Newcastle Universities.  He is currently Chairman of NHS  Innovations (North) and Chairman of the council of the Order of St. John in Northumbria.  He is a Fellow of the Royal College of surgeons of England and an Honorary Fellow of the American and Canadian Colleges of Surgeons.  He is a founding fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences and an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law of the University of Northumbria.

Read Prof. Sir Miles Irving’s complete keynote address.