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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Jill Gordon

IAS Fellow at St Mary's College, Durham University (October - December 2008)

Professor Jill Gordon has appointments in the Faculties of Medicine and Arts at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her first degree, in Medicine, was awarded by the University of Sydney. Subsequently she completed an undergraduate degree in Arts, majoring in Philosophy and a PhD in medical education, both at the University of Newcastle, NSW. She also completed a Masters degree in Psychological Medicine at the University of NSW, a reflection of her clinical interests.

One of Professor Gordon's chief interests in medical education has been the acquisition of professional values. The University of Newcastle was the first Australian university to break with tradition and use problem-based learning to provide a more authentic, integrated way of learning medicine. With a strong emphasis on values in medical practice, this program became a model later followed by other medical schools around Australia. Professor Gordon's PhD examined the behaviour of new graduates in communication with their patients, examining in particular the extent to which they adopted a narrow or broad approach to patient care, as a reflection of how they interpreted their role.

While at the University of Newcastle, Professor Gordon was also involved in establishing a program of support for aboriginal students to study medicine, to help to redress the balance of opportunity for indigenous students. (One of the first graduates was 2006 Woman of the Year in NSW, acknowledged for her work in aboriginal health research and other graduates have distinguished themselves in a number of areas).

She helped to completely reform the medical degree offered at the University of Sydney. As well as being integrated and problem-based, the degree is designed for graduates who have a prior degree in any area of study, in an attempt to broaden the base from which medical students are drawn. Later moving to the Faculty of Arts, she initiated a Masters degree in Medical Humanities in a further attempt to promote a more inclusive view of the disciplines relevant to medicine and to encourage cross disciplinary study.

Professor Gordon is Chair of the Austalian Medical Council's Committee for Accreditation Standards for International Medical Graduates. She is Vice President of the Doctors' Health Advisory Committee. She has served on a variety of government committees on medical education and professional development in Australia and has been an invited speaker at national and international conferences. She has recently published, with colleagues, a systematic review of reflection and reflective practice in health professions education. In 2007, with Professor Marytn Evans she prepared a monograph for the Association for the Study of Medical Education Learning Medicine from the Humanities. She is collaborating with Professor Evans, Dr Jane Macnaughton (both from the Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine (CAHHM) at the University of Durham) and other colleagues internationally on a medical humanities series examining aspects of the experience of health care, including the nature of the consultation, diagnosis and treatment. She currently works in the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney. She will be working with colleagues in CAHHM at the University of Durham during her stay; the focus of the program of inquiry within the Centre is into the nature of health, medicine and well-being, and the relative contributions of scientific medicine and the humanities and social sciences. The ultimate aim of Centre is to promote an intellectually coherent incorporation of humanistic understanding within clinical healthcare and a better understanding between them.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Being Human in Medicine

IAS/St Mary's College Public Lecture It is widely acknowledged that impressive technological advances in medicine and health care have made it possible to cure more diseases and alleviate more physical suffering than ever before. Despite these advances, there is significant dissatisfaction and burnout within the medical profession and a degree of public dissatisfaction with medicine and with doctors.

Some of the causes of public dissatisfaction are attributed to lack of continuity and of personalized care and to perceptions that doctors lack empathy with patients. Complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) has become hugely popular and its popularity is cited as evidence of dissatisfaction with orthodox medical care. From a broader perspective, there are criticisms concerning the inequitable distribution of medical care and the fear that many health-related problems have been “medicalised”. This process of medicalisation is driven from both sides - by doctors extending their authority over a wider range of health problems but also by commercial imperatives and by public demand for new treatments. The cost of care is rising, but health status within and between countries is not closely linked to expenditure on health. Doctors are also unhappy. Professional ‘burnout’ is documented in a number of countries, and within a number of specialties. It varies with level of seniority, with junior doctors being particularly susceptible to stress and burnout. We need to consider new ways of humanising practice in order to respond to inevitable changes in the delivery of health care. ‘Humanising’ doctors is one component of the change that is needed.

Professor Jill Gordon Publications

Gordon, J., MacNaughton J., Rudebeck, C. (2013) Medical Humanities Companion, Volume 4: Prognosis. Radcliffe Publishing Ltd

IAS Ingishts Paper


Once quite common, single case studies are rarely presented in major medical journals. However, individual illness journeys sometimes provide insights that are lost in purely biomedical accounts of disease and treatment.  While medical science has made considerable progress within the past century, care that is merely biomedical defeats its own ends because it cannot recognise or deal with the implications of illness and suffering for individuals. It is only our shared understanding of being human that can ensure that science is used to support human flourishing.

Insights Paper