Abstract for keynote at History of Medicine Days, University Calgary, 2 March 2018

In defense of amateur medical history

The professionalization of medical history over the last 30-40 years has largely been advantageous to the field, and its future development is now firmly in the hands of scholars trained in the humanities and social sciences. In this talk, I will bring up the question whether there might still be a role for amateur historians with a background experience in the medical professions. The question is prompted by current demographical changes. The proportion of senior citizens and the proportion of professionals and academics in the population are both steadily increasing, and, as a consequence, the proportion of retired professionals and academics in the population is growing rapidly; for example, the number of retired doctors and nurses is approaching one quarter of the total number of trained medical professionals. Current thinking in ageing research and policy suggests that retired medical professionals, like everyone else, should strive to age ‘successfully’. What could such ‘successful’ ageing mean for these groups of professionals (in addition to travelling, gardening and playing golf)? Can retired amateur medical historians make useful contributions to a field which is already thoroughly professionalized by humanities and social science scholars? Can medical history be a personally satisfactory post-career pursuit for retired doctors and nurses? I will spend the rest of my talk on two avenues for medical doctors and nurse who, qua senior citizens, wish to engage productively with the contemporary medical past. Drawing on my experience as a museum director, I will first discuss how senior medical professionals can be engaged as medical museum acquisition curators, and with reference to my current ‘The Ageing Professor’ project I will then make a plea for the medical autobiography/memoir – and finally address some of the advantages and pitfalls of these emeritus medical history endeavours.