Learning from mistakes: Early twentieth-century surgical practice

Wilde, Sally and Hirst, Geoffrey (2009) Learning from mistakes: Early twentieth-century surgical practice. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 64 1: 38-77. doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrn055

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Author Wilde, Sally
Hirst, Geoffrey
Title Learning from mistakes: Early twentieth-century surgical practice
Journal name Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0022-5045
Publication date 2009-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1093/jhmas/jrn055
Volume 64
Issue 1
Start page 38
End page 77
Total pages 40
Place of publication New Haven, U.S.A.
Publisher Oxford University Press
Language eng
Subject 110323 Surgery
2103 Historical Studies
1103 Clinical Sciences
Abstract Archibald Watson was an Australian anatomist and surgeon who kept operating theater diaries. He made detailed notes on the work of surgeons that he observed in Britain and North America, as well as in Australia. Watson’s diaries provide significant evidence that early twentieth-century surgeons did not just apply scientific knowledge produced somewhere else. They generated new surgical knowledge themselves and worked within a culture that valued innovation. Some of the surgeons laboratory research, but most did not. Nevertheless, it is clear that whether in Australia, Britain, or North America, the active search for improved techniques was a routine feature of the practice of full-time surgeons. In the process, they often made mistakes—or rather, they often did things with which at least some of their colleagues did not agree. Much of surgical practice was contestable. Doing things the “right” way and finding better ways to do things were overlapping categories; but it is often difficult or impossible to draw any distinction at all between doing things the “wrong” way and failed attempts at finding a better way to perform an operation. This article examines some aspects of the relationship between scientific ideas, clinical experience, contestable errors, and the generation of new knowledge through surgical practice.
Keyword History of surgery
Surgical knowledge
Surgical practice
Art and science of surgery
Clinical experience
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) - Collection
ERA 2012 Admin Only
School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 7 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 8 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Thu, 28 Jan 2010, 15:03:25 EST by Macushla Boyle on behalf of Faculty of Arts