Classics in Dermatology
How Do Physicians React to New Knowledge: The Experience of Jonathan Hutchinson 1828–1913 with Comments on its Relevance Today

Robert Jackson


Background: In the late 20th century, physicians are being challenged to absorb new knowledge at an ever-increasing pace.

Objective: This article will review the acquisition of new knowledge by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson, a prominent Victorian surgeon in the 19th century. At that time, new knowledge was presented much more slowly. How well Hutchinson absorbed new knowledge will be outlined and, in the light of his background and training, what events were there that either helped or hindered this process.

Conclusion: Assuming good physical and mental health, age and basic training are often important in how physicians react to new knowledge; the timing of the release of new knowledge also plays a role. Training in the basic attributes of scientific medicine as well as continuing medical education will help in the processing of new knowledge. One common response by physicians to the increasing load of new information is the narrowing of the individual’s field of expertise.


Antécédents: En cette fin de XXe siècle, les médecins doivent absorber des nouvelles connaissances qui se font jour à un rythme sans cesse croissant.

Objectif: Étudier l’aquistion de la connaissance par sir Jonathan Hutchinson, chirurgien célèbre de l’époque victorienne (XIXe siècle). La connaissance progressait alors beaucoup plus lentement. L’article porte sur la capacité d’Hutchinson à absorber les connaissances nouvelles et, à la lumière des données connues sur son milieu et sa formation, sur les événements qui ont pu l’aider ou lui nuire.

Conclusion: En supposant un bon état de santé physique et mental, l’âge et la formation de base comptent pour beaucoup dans la réaction d’un médicin à de nouvelles connaissances, tout comme le moment où les connaissances parviennent à sa portée. La formation sur les attributs essentiels de la médecine scientifique ainsi que la formation continue facilitent le traitement de nouvelles connaissances. Un flot de connaissances nouvelles incite souvent l’individu à restreindre son champ d’expertise.

Received 10/15/97. Accepted for publication 4/20/98.

Emeritus Professor Medicine, Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Presented at the 1996 meeting of the American Dermatological Association held in Montreal on September 27–October 1, 1996.

Reprint requests: Robert Jackson, MD, FRCPC, 1081 Carling Avenue, Suite 508, Ottawa, ON Canada K1Y 4G2

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