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Bruce Campbell MD - Head and Neck Surgeon and author of A Fullness of Uncertain Significance: Stories of Surgery, Clarity and Grace

A Fullness of

Uncertain Significance:

Stories of Surgery, Clarity, and Grace

Bruce H. Campbell, MD FACS

A Fullness of Uncertain Significance - Norbert Blei August Derleth Award
A Fullness of Uncertain Significance_2D
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  • Writer's pictureBruce Campbell MD

When I was a junior medical student, one of the senior residents had the perfect strategy to get personalized service whenever he wanted. When our cohort of students rotated onto his service, he offered us a deal:

“Okay, rookies, I am going to give you a short spelling test of common medical terms. If you get all five words correct, I will do one of your history and physical exams for you. If you miss any, you will have to run and get me a cup of coffee whenever I want for the next four weeks. Deal?”

We were all pretty confident spellers, being college graduates and all. “Deal,” we replied.

He rubbed his hands together. “You first, Campbell. Here are the words and their usual pronunciations:"

  • Spell the name of the specialty that takes care of the eye (Op-tha-mol-o-gy).

  • Spell the name of the bony plate that the olfactory nerve passes through in the skull base. (crib-a-form).

  • Spell the name of the chemical that is used to check for blood in the stool. (gui-ack).

  • Spell the name of the bony plates behind the maxilla (ter-goid).

  • Spell the name of the operation to fix a hernia. (her-ne-or-a-fee).

  • And for bonus points, tell me the difference between a regimen and a regime.

None of us got more than a couple of them correct. He spent the rest of the month with a smile on his face and a cup of coffee in his hand.


Answers to the Medical Resident’s Spelling Quiz: Ophthalmology (most leave out the first “h.”) Cribriform (most leave out the second “r.”) Guaiac (most leave out the first “a.”) Pterygoid (most leave out either the “p” or the “y.”) Herniorrhaphy (most give up.)

And for the bonus points, a “regimen” in medicine is a prescribed course of treatment. A “regime” is a government, although some authorities insist the words are synonyms.

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