Redeeming Mr Sawbone: compassion and care in the cultures of nineteenth-century surgery

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    To complicate understandings of the emotions involved in the surgical encounter.


    I draw on an extensive body of historical material to demonstrate the importance of compassion and sympathy to the professional identities and experiences of early nineteenth-century British surgeons and use this information to reflect on what lessons can be learned for contemporary practice.

    This research demonstrates that compassion and sympathy for the patient were a vital part of surgery in the decades immediately preceding the introduction of anaesthesia in the 1840s and that they played a vital role in shaping the professional identity of the surgeon.


    This research suggests that we might develop more complex and inclusive ways of thinking about the doctor-patient relationship in surgery and that we can draw on the experiences of the past to ensure that we take compassion seriously as a vital element of the intersubjective clinical encounter.


    Surgery, Emotion, Compassion, Doctor-patient relationship, History, Professional identity

    © 2017, The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Compassionate Health Care
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2017


    • SurgerY
    • emotional
    • ,
    • Professional identity
    • Compassion
    • History
    • Doctor-patient relationship

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