Unit 12 - Contemporary Medicine:The Role Model of Physicians as Medical Humanists The Case of Grigore T. Popa
UNIVERSITY GRIGORI T. POPA OF MEDICINE AND PHARMACY (RO)
Well-known Romanian physicians-writers contributed to medical progress through research articles and also shared their thoughts on the problems of humankind in literary and journalistic works, while also becoming role models for both future professionals. For example, Prof. Mircea Rusu, one of Grigore T.Popa’s disciples, founder of the discipline of orthodontics and periodontology at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iasi and a pioneer of pediatric dentistry in Romania) and family (e.g. Grigore T. Popa’s great granddaughter, Maya Catherine Popa, teacher and writer in New York City, who wrote an award-winning poem inspired by her great grandfather).
The first learning object is a reading adapted for the learning objectives of this unit from articles published in medical journals and a seminal PhD thesis abstract devoted to doctor-writer Grigore T. Popa. The thesis is authored by Richard Constantinescu, medical historian, head of the discipline History of Medicine and curator of the Museum of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iasi, who has shown a constant interest in the Romanian physician ever since he edited the latter’s Jurnalul unui savant român în America, a diary of Popa’s American research grant period at the Rockefeller Foundation New York. The reading is divided into sub-topics that account for Grigore T. Popa’s training as a man of letters (writer, journalist, and translator) and noted physician who advanced the field of neuroanatomy and also had bioethical concerns. Equally important was Popa’s life philosophy, according to which everyone’s life has something to offer to others and one’s work and life are inseparable, should serve as inspiration to all students in an era of unprecedented personal development. Popa had become popular from an early age and his human, literary and medical qualities were acknowledged by important Romanian critics of the time and colleagues (Prof. Nicolae Leon, C.D. Zeletin, founder of the literary magazine Însemnări ieșene to which Grigore T. Popa contributed), as well as by experts from abroad (e.g. Hans Bluntschli or Harvey Cushing who cited Popa’s medical research repeatedly). He opposed the communist regime in Romania, an oppressive regime whose consequences were painfully visible in clinical practice, bioethics, social medical sciences, restricted communication between doctor and patient, doctor and official bodies.
Popa’s medical research is rendered differently in the reading from the case scenario. The former highlights the Romanian physician’s main contributions to medicine from an academic viewpoint, often supported by colleagues from the country or abroad - some encouraging, others sceptical of his endeavours. The latter provides Grigore T. Popa’s own account as recorded in his memoirs. From a didactic perspective, this should help learners become familiar with salient aspects of communication between medical researchers and their advisors, particularly early on in their careers, not to mention access to hands-on medical knowledge. In the reading, the new findings that Popa outlines, i.e. the vascular link between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, are compared to the research in cell biology conducted by George Emil Palade, 1974 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the ribosomes of the endoplasmic reticulum. Such examples of Romanian physicians empower learners to examine comparatively the situation in their own countries or worldwide as far as medical role models are concerned. The material also invites students to reflect issues of contemporary ethical importance. Grigore T. Popa’s contributions to the field (a holistic view of world and man, an anthropocentric vitalism opposed to gross materialism) may help students better cope with some current problems of humanity (e.g. addiction to new technologies, racism, population overgrowth) by working on embedded scenarios to solve them.
Finally, new learning objects that support the topic under discussion are provided in video format available on YouTube. They are selected to reflect different, yet complementary views on Grigore T.Popa’s life, medical and literary work. First comes Romanian literary critic Dan C. Mihăilescu’s review of Popa’s diary, titled Jurnalul unui savant român în America (2014), which covers his research stay at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and Chicago in 1925-1926. The diary is presented in no more than five minutes during the cultural programme Cartea de la ora 5 (The 5 o’clock book) and the reviewer argues that Popa had become familiar with several aspects of the American scientific, social and cultural life. This would allow learners to compare the situation of medical development in America to that of their home countries and other places they visited from such multiple viewpoints as the cult of competition and performance, meritocracy, democracy, efficiency, freedom as self-fulfillment, the civic spirit, public libraries, the social function of wealth etc. Second, Popa’s great granddaughter, Maya Catherine Popa, teacher and writer in New York City, is seen on YouTube reciting her award-winning poem, A Technique for Operating on the Past, inspired by her great grandfather. The poem is an opportunity for learners to reflect on a role model in the family who inspired them and enrich their medical communication skills by sharing their thoughts. The third video is an interview, also available on YouTube, with Prof. Mircea Rusu, Grigore T.Popa’s student and disciple, founder of the discipline of orthodontics and periodontology at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iasi and a pioneer of pediatric dentistry in Romania. Speaking about the magazine Însemnări ieșene, which he had co-founded together with Popa, Prof. Rusu honours his former professor, which is a good opportunity for learners to assess the impact of an inspiring mentor in academia and in medical institutions, and also hypothesize on the necessary skills of such a personality.