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Is the cleverest doctor the best doctor?

A visit by a deputation from the People Republic of China gets Copperfield into a debate about what makes a good medical exam.

A visit by a deputation from the People Republic of China gets Copperfield into a debate about what makes a good medical exam.

I won't bore you with the details but the other evening I got caught up in an argument about medical exams.

A mate of mine had just hosted a visit by a deputation from the People's Republic of China and what they wanted to know was how to set a jolly good passing out examination – one that would sort the wheat from the chaff.

The exam had to assess the candidates' knowledge of Chinese medicine along with the real thing and it also had to reflect differences in local medical practice.

This latter requirement makes perfect sense, there's no point expecting candidates to know that they need to adulterate their yak vomit and panda dung poultices with Betnovate to produce miraculous results in childhood eczema if they plan to practise down the road from the Synalar factory.

The problem came when the debate began about the point of the exam itself. Was the aim to determine whether a candidate had studied and memorised the textbooks conscientiously or was it to figure out whether he or she would turn out to be a doctor the examiner would trust to treat his own family?

For instance – if I were to sit an exam in homoeopathy tomorrow I would fail dismally. I've never read a book on the subject and simply wouldn't have a clue which toxin to dilute, or how often.

But here's the thing. If I were to set myself up in practice as a homoeopath next day, I'd be perfectly competent, as I'm just as capable of handing out bottles of water with funny labels as the next man.

Which kind of renders the examination process redundant.

So is the good Chinese Medic the one who's committed the textbooks to memory and knows a hundred different herbal remedies to be tried to treat non-ulcer dyspepsia or is he the guy who knows a guy who makes knock-off proton pump inhibitors and ladles a generous helping into every batch of Dr Wu's Herbal Tea?

Don't ask me. I don't pretend to have all the questions, never mind the answers.

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