Highbrow Physicians

Yenisel Rodríguez

Photo: Caridad

The study program in Cuba for a degree in medicine includes little or nothing of philosophy, social sciences or the arts. Consequently, doctors graduate grossly ignorant of those socio-cultural, political and economic matters that are indispensable for carrying out their future profession.

Exceptions exist. They are those students of the medical sciences who are inspired by the humanities. In a self-taught fashion, they build up sufficiently solid bases of knowledge concerning society and art.

Needless to say, this sensitivity for humanistic knowledge fails to “contaminate” the rest of their classmates or a significant part of the teaching staff; these are people who consider it an academic eccentricity to talk about Socrates, the Renaissance or structures of domination in the middle of an anatomy lab.

But the question changes drastically when the post-graduate stage arrives, especially for those physicians who are able to stand out as professionals. Conditioned by the prestige that our medical system possesses throughout the world, particularly in Latin America, whoever excels in this profession will see themselves immersed in a professional routine that includes encounters with renowned foreign academics, visits to elite universities, as well as attendance at numerous scientific events and their respective aristocratic dinners.

This is a context in which medical knowledge is insufficient to nurture the expectations that these professional accomplishments generate.

This context of being among the elite will demand a minimal measure of “high culture,” where the arts and humanities play an important role, thus conditioning an unexpected vindication by these former inquisitors of the “soft” sciences. Some are able to recover the lost time, and there are even those who are able to incorporate a genuine identification with cultured knowledge.

But others, unfortunately the great majority, find it too difficult to fit in with the pageantry of the medical elite; instead they only hyperbolize their pseudo-cultural knowledge, a performance that ends up being imprinted on the character of those talented physicians as their true condition.

An example of this snobbery is the opportunistic attitude implied by showing off in front of patients who come in for consultations as such physicians attempt to win a reputation of knowledge in the arts and letters.

Their onslaught of learning silences the amazed patient. How could one ever imagine that in the middle of an orthopedics consultation, and at 2:00 in the afternoon, a keynote address would be delivered on the historical significance of the ballet Swan Lake?

It would be good to update ourselves in what some call “general culture” before setting up an appointment with some of those geniuses of Cuban medicine. In this way, in the best of cases, we’d be able to contain our talented doctor’s potential cultural missteps.

This miracle would be achieved if, after receiving the first bombardment of culture-related information, we were able to discuss the proposed issue in some degree of depth. Could it be that these talented doctors fold in the face of a “specialized” counteroffensive?

“What…? Chopin was in love with a French novelist named George Sand over there in Majorca! … Well… my good friend… where did you say it hurt?”

Yes, because when “Master Doctor” suspects that his knowledge might run out in a specialized cultural debate, he immediately drops back to playing the role of an illustrious health care professional so as to bow out subtly. Good news for us, he’s left with his foot in his mouth.