1830s England called, it wants its apprentice doctors back

3 minute read

The NHS wants to introduce a scheme to train students on the job without the burden of a medical degree. Yes, really.

His father, a military man, had made but little provision for three children, and when the boy Tertius asked to have a medical education, it seemed easier to his guardians to grant his request by apprenticing him to a country practitioner than to make any objections on the score of family dignity. ~ Middlemarch, George Eliot

My darling Beloved,

I take up my quill in some considerable state of perturbation. Without wishing to confound your delicate sensibilities unnecessarily, I feel I must bare my troubled soul, safe in the knowledge you would not wish me to suppress my agitation.

For I fear I must depart fair Middlemarch momentarily, dearest. The terms of my employment in this otherwise quaint and humble borough have become almost unendurable.

You are aware, I know, how I value my work tending to the ill and distressed of Middlemarch. You are sensible too of the years I dedicated to procuring my qualifications so to do. For you helped me through it all, with support and self-sacrifice. I shall be forever grateful for the smoothing of my academic path your presence made possible.

But to the crux of it! I can keep it inside no longer.

My esteemed employer – the Lady Amanda Pritchard, of the National Health Service of beloved memory – has, it seems, lost her mental capacity in some calamitous mishap of which I know not.

Brace yourself, my sweet. It seems I am now expected to mentor and supervise apprentices without medical degrees.

Yes! I can sense your astonishment from across the waters, as I know you can feel mine.

Apprentices! Barely done with their schooling, their A levels still warm in the back pockets of their breeches, laying hands on the trusting souls of Middlemarch, trembling for a healing touch. And I am expected to put aside my duties to ensure these neophytes do not cause more harm than good.

Which of my tasks should I lay aside to accomplish this feat? Should I cease bloodletting poor Mrs Lydgate, and leave her to the vagaries of her vapours? Should I desist from blistering the Marchmount child, content to let him succumb to his malignant fever? Am I to put aside the cries of a woman in the last stages of her confinement, lest a young lad with no prospects, foisted upon me to train, pushes when he should have pulled?

The fellowship of doctors will not stand for it, my sweet. Missives have been written to the London papers. If all goes as has been the wont of recent times, there will be functionaries in their multitudes needed to administer this pox-ridden scheme.

You know the details of my remuneration, dearest. It is insufficient for the hours dedicated by me to my tasks, as you are cognisant, even without this further impost. This cannot go on and I am of a mind to up stumps and come to you in that fair land of your birth.

Legend has it the medical streets are paved with gold there, with more to come. And your beloved Land of Queens has offered me further inducements.

It is decided. By the time this epistle reaches you, my love, I shall be aboard a steam packet bound for your arms. Until then, I remain, as ever, your devoted darling Doctor of Love.

Sending story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au wards off smallpox, cholera morbus and gout.

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