Reasons for Hope – by Jonathan McFarland 

Σὰ βγε στὸν πηγαιμὸ γιὰ τὴν Ἰθάκη
νὰ εὔχεσαι νἆναι μακρὺς ὁ δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις. 

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

(Hygeia – the daughter of Asclepius – a gift from Prof. Marianna Karamanou) 

Constantine Peter Cavafy probably wrote the first version of Ithaca, from which the above lines are taken, in 1894. He then revised it and it was first published in 1911. He was inspired by Odysseus’ journey home to his native island, but it came to mind when thinking of the last two weeks in May 2022. 

First in Oporto at The Doctor as a Humanist symposium on Humanism in Surgery hosted by the i3S Research Institute and Susana Magalhaes, in which we were able to interweave two days on how to restore a humanistic touch to 21st century surgery with a last day dedicated to the varied and distinguished voices of members of EUNAMES, orchestrated by Maria Giulia Marini. Second, a Hybrid CIVIS Summer School entitled “Inclusive Approaches to the Medical Humanities” held in the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and organized by Marianna Karamanou (University of Athens) and Gabriela Florea (University of Bucharest). From my point of view both journeys were “full of adventure and discovery”. 

The journey or the road to the intertwining (or even entangling) of the sciences and the humanities has been a long one, and it will never stop; we will never reach our Ithaca however these two events demonstrated that there is a growing movement (or even revolution) to restore the rightful balance between the sciences and the humanities in the field of medicine and healthcare. I believe that the pandemic, not over by a long way, has been key to the rebirth of this feeling and belief. Hetan Shah (Chief Executive of the British Academy) wrote in 2021 how science wasn’t enough to save us in reference to the pandemic, going on to state that policymakers needed the insight from the humanities to tackle the pandemic. And post-pandemic.  

There is so much to discuss and comment on from both events so I won’t even try since it would need a lot more space than I have here. However, there was a common thread that gave me optimism, and that was the contributions of the students. In Oporto we had students giving short communications on the link between Opera and Neuroscience; Art and Surgery, surgeons’ self-compassion fatigue, and one moving, powerful and tremendously brave talk on Mental health in healthcare, to name a few. The students’ contributions, both in person and virtually, were the ‘heart and soul’ of the event; let us never forget that they will be the future doctors looking after our children and our grandchildren, and I was humbled by their passion and enthusiasm. 

In Athens, the students were the focus since it was a summer school and there were students from Spain (UAM), Romania (Bucharest), Sweden (Stockholm), Nigeria (studying in Bucharest – University of Bucharest), Iran, India (studying in Rome – La Sapienza) and of course Greece (predominantly Athens). At the end, each university had a representative who made a brief comment on the impact that the Summer School had on their approach to medical practice in respect to the humanistic side of medicine. Moreover, each student was asked to say one word that encapsulated the 4-day summer school, and here are some examples:  Hope, Community, Spirituality, Empathy, Unity, Loss.

Nevertheless, one word remains with me – Vision – since a Greek student stood up and read her poem about her experiences and feelings of the event.

Through your eyes I saw 
The change I want to make 
The hope I want to share 
The love for human as a whole 
It was the excitement of your voices 
the passion for life, learning and creation. 
Through your battles I saw 
the need to be all one 
for us, for you, for the afterlife 
it was my soul that calmed down 
and our goal for a better tomorrow.

(Konstantina Stergiopolou – Student at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) 

 Her words fill me with humility, hope and an enormous desire to keep on supporting future doctors from all around the world to reach out for a “better tomorrow”.  

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.