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What it takes to be a good doctor

07. September 2016

No one knows better than Dr. Henry Marsh. At a lecture at Jacobs University, the British brain surgeon and winner of many awards offered insights into his long professional life. One of his conclusions: operating is relatively simple. It is much more demanding to deal with the consequences of illnesses to patients and with ones own faults.
“Patients want hope and security. Giving it to them while also being realistic, is a very difficult task for a physician,” says Dr. Marsh, who has done about 8000 brain surgeries in his life. Until his retirement last year, the 66-year-old worked at St. George’s Hospital in London. He is the author of the book “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery” and was also the focus of the prize-winning BBC documentary “Your Life in Their Hands,” about his work as a brain surgeon, and “The English Surgeon,” which shows his work in the Ukraine.
Medical decisions are always a matter of uncertainties and probabilities, emphasizes Dr. Marsh. That makes it all the more important to make decisions together with patients and not over their heads. He has always seen the opportunity to be a physician as a privilege, but it is also not easy to be a good physician. It is important to have good colleagues with the will and ability to provide constructive criticism, to have lots of patience, and not make any hasty decisions, he advises his listeners. Since the fall of this year, Jacobs University has been offering young people a one-year preparatory course to prepare them to study medicine. 
Marsh himself found his way to his profession by way of a detour. He first studied philosophy, political science, and economics at the University of Oxford, before a half-year stint as a ward assistant in a North English hospital moved him to become a doctor. 
Since 2015 Jacobs University has been preparing international students in Germany to study medicine ( . This fall a special preparatory course has been added for young people from Germany ( .