Liam Farrell: The uselessness of general knowledge

Noblesse oblige being what it is, I took part in a table quiz a few weeks ago, in aid of a popular and worthy Irish charity, The Royal College of Village idiots - we have a few locals studying for the fellowship and enjoy sniggering at them behind their backs.

My table was the epitome of petit bourgeois, consisting of people who would like to consider themselves my peers: a schoolteacher, a member of the clergy and an ex-terrorist, now in government. (I am good with lay people, skilled at Putting Them At Their Ease.)

At one stage the question was asked: 'What is another name for Hansen's Disease?'

Having already excelled in the earlier rounds on TV soaps (the answer is always the same, she was killed in a car crash), horse racing and hard-core Swedish, this was reckoned to be right up my street, and the rest of the team paused briefly over their beer and sausage rolls and turned to me.

All those expectant faces looking to me for enlightenment and intellectual succour, it might have seemed a weighty burden, especially as I hadn't a clue. However, not having a clue yet being able to improvise a plausible response is an integral skill for the general practitioner. As the Fat Man said: 'In any emergency, the first thing to do is take your own pulse.'

So I remained studiously calm, took a few seconds to assess the situation, then mimed a choking fit and rubber-necked the next table, recovering once I had seen the answer.

'Leprosy,' I intoned with Solomonic authority, as if I had never entertained any doubt. We won the quiz and, in an explosion of largesse, donated our winnings to the Village Idiots, which I hear they invested in the stock market.

The point of this anecdote is to illustrate the uselessness of general knowledge. I have travelled a bit and seen a few cases of leprosy. I know what causes it, when to suspect it, how to diagnose it and how to treat it.

What I didn't know was that it was also called Hansen's Disease; of all the facts about leprosy, that's probably the least important. Yet that was the question chosen - an easy cop for the question master because it had a concise and unambiguous answer; its irrelevance to the real world was irrelevant.

It sounds like suitable material for the MRCGP.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

GP training: Useful resources when preparing for the AKT

GP training: Useful resources when preparing for the AKT

Dr Branavan Anandasundaram highlights useful resources that GP trainees can use to...

GP training: How to succeed in the AKT

GP training: How to succeed in the AKT

Dr Branavan Anandasundaram passed the AKT earlier this year with a score of 89.5%....

Medico-legal: Advice on prescribing opioids

Medico-legal: Advice on prescribing opioids

The MDU's Dr Ellie Mein advises on how to avoid the medico-legal risks associated...

Map: How CQC ratings for general practice vary across England

Map: How CQC ratings for general practice vary across England

An overwhelming 95% of GP practices in England are rated either 'good' or 'outstanding'...

Rise in GP waiting times 'driving more patients to Google health advice'

Rise in GP waiting times 'driving more patients to Google health advice'

Longer waits for GP appointments may be pushing more patients to search for health...

GP locum rates continue to rise in most parts of the UK, poll reveals

GP locum rates continue to rise in most parts of the UK, poll reveals

Average hourly rates received by locums have risen across England over the past 12...