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Medical Journal Goes To The Dogs

Posted: December 5, 2013

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The august medical journal JAMA created a kitsch masterpiece for the cover of its annual issue dedicated to medical education. A group of seven canine healers, some apparently in training, hover around a sick mutt sucking on a thermometer in a hospital bed. They look an awful lot like some poker-playing dogs from yesteryear.

That's Dr. Fido to you, pal.

That's Dr. Fido to you, pal.

For a half-century, JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, adorned its cover with works of fine art. You could have easily mistaken an issue of the august medical journal on your doctor's desk for a stray copy of ARTnews.

But a JAMA redesign this summer put the table of contents on the front cover and moved the art inside.

Why? "Many readers let us know that while they appreciated [the art], there was no indication on the cover of what was in the journal, the content of the journal," says Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA's executive editor.

Sometimes for a theme issue, though, the editors will push the article listings down a bit to make room for a picture.

And this week for an issue devoted to medical education, JAMA created what may be a new kitsch masterpiece. A group of seven canine healers, some apparently in training, hover around a sick mutt sucking on a thermometer in a hospital bed.

If you've spent any time in knotty-pine-paneled rec rooms or playing pool in dive bars, you'll recognize the style instantly.

Just in case you don't, the JAMA editors write that the cover is "an homage to the early 20th-century artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge." His body of work includes paintings such as A Friend in Need and A Bold Bluff. The JAMA editors point out that Coolidge's "oeuvre is most commonly referred to as Dogs Playing Poker."

The JAMA editors say they were unaware of any Coolidge paintings that depicted medical education and decided to commission a cover to fill the gap. The Dogs Playing Doctor cover was a collaboration between editor Dr. Robert Golub and JAMA medical illustrator Cassio Lynm.

"While the cover is certainly whimsical, we think it's an homage of sorts to medicine," Fontanarosa tells Shots. "We fully expect that our readers are going to react to the cover." In fact, he says, one doctor who admired it has asked about getting a poster-size print suitable for framing. That's not something JAMA is able to do just yet.

But don't get fixated on the doctor dogs. Fontanarosa says the issue has lots of excellent research on hot topics in medical education, ranging from substance abuse by anesthesiology residents to reduction of errors when residents hand off patients at the end of shifts.

So just like another magazine that used to be headquartered in Chicago, you might pick up JAMA to look at the eye-popping cover and stick around for the thought-provoking articles.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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