Professor Charles Bosk - Open Classroom Session at the JCB

Charles Bosk

Contributed by: Martin McKneally


Professor Charles Bosk will present the inaugural Balfour Lecture in Surgical Ethics on Thursday, February 12 at 5:00 pm in the CRL Event Room 1, in the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research Tower (HSC's new research tower), 686 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M5G 0A4. His title is "Mistakes Have Changed: 40 Years of Watching Surgeons Create Accountability".


His accomplishments in medical sociology and bioethics are summarized below.


Professor Bosk will also participate in an open classroom session of the Practical Ethics MHSc Course on Friday, February 13 from 10:00 am until noon in the public space on the 7th floor at the JCB, entitled "A Morning Café with Charles Bosk". Charles will talk about qualitative research and discuss some of the research projects of our students. All JCB members, students and faculty are encouraged to attend and enjoy this stimulating session.



Professor Charles Bosk - Bio

Charles Bosk's first book, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure (University of Chicago Press, 1st edition, 1979; 2nd expanded edition, 2003) an ethnographic account of surgical training, is a seminal book within not only sociology, but medicine as well. The book remains one of the best descriptions of professional socialization that we have; Bosk's analysis of how surgeons categorize and respond to mistakes is, quite simply, non pareil. In fact, Bosk's work in Forgive and Remember anticipates later sociological work on error, such as Charles Perrow's Normal Error. It is required reading for comprehensive exams in both sociology of medicine and sociology of work in many graduate programs. The book has taken on renewed significance in recent years, with the release of the Institute of Medicine's report "To Err is Human" in 2000 and the subsequent groundswell of attention to patient safety and health care quality. Forgive and Remember is also the kind of book that professors love to assign in their graduate qualitative methods classes. Bosk's careful ethnography (described so well in his classic appendix "The Fieldworker and the Surgeon") provides an ideal example of how ethnographers can write a perfectly organized and concise, but still thick description of their field sites.


Bosk is rare among sociologists of medicine in the depth of the impact that his work has made on the medical profession itself. Forgive and Remember has been a bestseller in medical school book stores since its publication and is often required reading for surgical residents, among whom it resonates powerfully—a testament to how "right" Bosk got the story (cohort after cohort of residents ends up utterly convinced that their hospital must be the place where Bosk conducted his field work). In fact, Forgive and Remember is invariably described as a "must-read" among residents and medical students.


Over the last decade, Bosk's work has focused again on the issue of medical mistakes, this time in the guise of patient safety. After receiving a prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award for his project, "Restarting a Stalled Policy Revolution: Patient Safety, Systems Error, and Professional Responsibility," Bosk has become an authoritative voice in both academic and policy debates about professionalism and patient safety. The latest work sits squarely at the nexus of real-world policy and sociological theory and represents some of the best empirical work being done around quality of care and patient safety. In this world, Bosk is (as he is so often) something of a contrarian, poking holes in the conventional wisdom about patient safety. Much of the current work fetishizes the "systems approach" to error; Bosk and his colleagues have been carefully and persuasively pointing out the ways in which a more sociologically informed and nuanced view might make us hesitate to over-invest in seemingly simple and intuitive solutions like checklists, no matter their pull in policy circles.


In addition to his work on research ethics, Bosk is well-known in the bioethics community, where he has managed the delicate balancing act of being within bioethics, but not of bioethics. He has resisted the lure of identifying himself as a "bioethicist," in part to preserve his stance as an observer of—and sometimes critic of—bioethics as practiced today.


Condensed from Professor Bosk's nomination for the Leo G. Reeder award in Medical Sociology of the American Sociological Association.