The Cranky Professor discusses the fact that the Jefferson University in Philadelphia sold one of their famous paintings, the Gross Clinic, for 68 million dollars, to a larger museum that is honored to house it.

The Cranky professor comments on their Press release:”$68,000,000 + another big pile of money = “the tools to implement our current strategic plan”

Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain. Originally one of the Waltons was going to buy it, but the outcry of the “art community” stopped that, so the lucky city will keep this historic painting. It will sit in a museum viewed by art lovers and bored kids forced to tour the place, and will be seen as an example of American art history.

As the Cranky Professor says:”I fail to see why historical piety should triumph at a medical school. I want doctors who were trained with all the latest toys. I want a cure for cancer. Keep the art in museums.”

Ah, but when I went to Jefferson, it wasn’t in a museum that required a guard to let you in. It was part of our heritage.
It’s been nigh on 40 years since I started medical school and first saw it. If I remember correctly, the Gross clinic was in the main school building. Sometimes it would be on lone to a museum, but usually it was just…there. Part of the school, part of our history. It was in the old Medical school building that still housed the administration, some classrooms, and the library. I don’t remember it being in a “museum”. Perhaps the museum came with the upgrade to being a University and oh so modern.

Jefferson wasn’t the oldest medical school in the USA, but it had a long history, and part of our training was that history, seeing ourselves as part of a long line of healers, respecting the art of medicine and the disciplines of science in our profession. My diploma is still in Latin, for example.
The Gross Clinic was not just a painting, it was part of the heritage: Samuel Gross (class of 1828) The Gross Clinic taught surgery, and wrote early texts on surgery. From the painting, you can see he predates both anesthesia and cleanliness.

So the “Gross Clinic” to us as students was not a piece of art, but a piece of our history, and it’s presence reminded us of our past: as the old hymn goes, “may all who went before us find us faithful”.

But things like piety, history and heritage just don’t count in these newfangled days when “strategic planning” are the object of the administration.

What was that epigram: they know the price of everything but the value of nothing…


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket 

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