BJS Bookshelf: Bailey & Love’s Short Practice of Surgery
19 December 2023
Bailey & Love’s Short Practice of Surgery was the surgical textbook we were given to read from our time as 3rd year medical students. Despite the ‘short’ in the title, this is a comprehensive tome that has evolved through years and indeed generations of surgeons. Today, subspecialisation has somewhat eroded the generalist reading of our yesteryears, and with that comes the downside of that lack of surgical general knowledge which underpins the continued loss of general surgical training.
The book has evolved into its current 28th edition from the one of my student days. There are multiple versions including more affordable paperbacks (typically for overseas trainees/surgeons) and digital versions. On a comparative basis, chapters that now exist such as ‘Basic Surgical Skills’, ‘Surgical Audit’, ‘Ethics & Law in Surgical Practice’, ‘Tissue and Molecular Diagnosis’ were not present in the previous versions we read, indicating that the modern nuances of current surgical practice have been incorporated yielding more than 80 chapters- compared to the 61 in my own historic 21st edition now held firmly by duct tape. Topics such as ‘Tropical infections and infestations’ add a global perspective. Nevertheless, the book continues to do what it has always done, present a vast amount of general surgical knowledge in an easily readable way. To that end, it promotes the value of knowing the history of surgery. It also provides insights into how surgery has evolved, ever-amusing and memorable aphorisms (‘When you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail’) and footnotes (how Ramstedt’s family name had been misspelt).
Why surgeons should read it:
This is, in my opinion, absolutely essential reading for the medical student wishing to embark on a career in surgery (it was essential for all medical students at our institution), the surgeon-in-training, and the surgical educator from undergraduate to postgraduate phases. The style is almost conversational or narrative rather than didactic, and what may seem an intimidating tome becomes an ‘old friend’. As trainees, we would discuss points made in the book pertaining to the topic in hand and this would reinforce knowledge retention. The stimulating graphics and blurbs take us away from dry surgical academia, informing us for example that the Widow Dimanche, who had a spectacular sebaceous horn, sold watercress in Paris, or that the word ‘debridement’ came from Dominique Jean Larrey, a French surgeon in Napoleon’s army. Such gems are not found in most other surgical textbooks. Surgeons of course need operative skills, but the decisions to operate must be based on a robust knowledge base, and this textbook goes a long way towards providing just that. The aspiring surgeon should be well read and it is lamentable that there are surgical trainees who are not even aware of this magnificent resource, which should definitely be recommended by all surgical educators.
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