‘Thinking with Homer’, or drawing creatively on themes and scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, can help us to better understand medical culture and practice. One current, pressing, issue is the role of the whistleblower, who recognises and exposes perceived poor practice or ethical transgressions that compromise patient care and safety. Once, whistleblowers were ostracised where medical culture closed ranks. However, in a new era of public accountability, medicine looks to formally embrace whistleblowing to the point that not reporting transgressions can now constitute a transgression of professionalism. Where medical students identify with the history and traditions of medical culture, they inevitably find themselves in situations of conflicting loyalties if they encounter senior clinicians behaving unprofessionally. What are the implications of facing these dilemmas for students in terms of role modelling and shaping of character as a doctor, and how might a study of Homer help with such dilemmas? We suggest that a close reading of an opening scene in Homer's the Iliad can help us to better appreciate such ethical dilemmas. We link this with the early Greek tradition of parrhesia or ‘truth telling’, where frankly speaking out against perceived injustice is encouraged as resistance to power and inappropriate use of authority. We encourage medical educators to openly discuss perceived ethical dilemmas with medical students, and medicine as a culture to examine its conscience in a transition from an authoritarian to an ‘open’ society, where whistleblowing becomes as acceptable and necessary as good hygiene on the wards.
- Greek history
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