Can You Identify These Famous Fictional Physicians?

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


August 06, 2018

Crisis of Conscience in the Caribbean

Image from Wikimedia

Arrowsmith, written by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), is named after the book's main character Martin Arrowsmith, a physician and infectious disease researcher. In the novel, Arrowsmith develops a potentially effective antibacterial agent, a bacteriophage, which must first undergo clinical trial testing to confirm its efficacy. An outbreak of bubonic plague on a fictional Caribbean island provides Arrowsmith with the ideal population on which to test his new agent.

As in today's clinical trials, Arrowsmith's patients are randomized to receive either the bacteriophage or a placebo. However, after Arrowsmith's wife and several of his associates die of the plague, he abandons the trial and treats all patients with the active drug. His decision, which compromises scientific methodology, haunts Arrowsmith throughout the remainder of his life.

In 1930, Sinclair Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.[1] The following year, Arrowsmith was adapted for the screen and featured English actor Ronald Colman as Dr Martin Arrowsmith.

Regarding the other characters listed in this question, Roy Basch is an intern in Samuel Shem's (pseudonym for real-life psychiatrist Stephen Bergman) 1978 novel House of God; Peter Jahrling is a virologist in Richard Preston's 1994 novel The Hot Zone; and Edward Armstrong is a scientist in real-life physician Robin Cook's 1995 thriller Acceptable Risk.


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