Medical Student Receives Osler Medal for Essay in Medical History

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Daniel Castañeda, a third-year M.D./M.P.H. candidate at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is the recipient of this year’s Osler Medal — an award given to medical students in the U.S. and Canada for the best unpublished essay on a historical medical topic.

Daniel Castañeda
Daniel Castañeda

Awarded by the American Association for the History of Medicine, the medal commemorates Sir William Osler, who stimulated interest in the humanities among medical students and physicians. Castañeda earned the Miller School’s first medal for his essay, “Vendors of Death: Sanitary Discourses and the Stigmatization of Street Food Vendors During Peru’s Cholera Epidemic, 1991–1993.”

“My advisor Dr. Jeffrey Brosco gave me great feedback before my submission and sounded confident in my chances to win,” Castañeda said. “Still, it came as a shock and a great honor to earn the award, especially when I was looking back at the list of previous winners and the great papers they wrote.”

“I was truly amazed when I first read Daniel’s essay,” Dr. Brosco said. “Imagine writing a nuanced and thoroughly researched contribution to the history of medicine while working as a full-time medical student. Daniel demonstrates the kind of excellence we hope all of our NextGenMD students are able to attain.”

Topic of Interest

Daniel Castañeda
Daniel Castañeda in Machu Picchu

Castañeda’s winning essay stems from a 100-page undergraduate honors thesis he wrote as a history major in Davidson College’s Kelley Honors Program in Historical Studies. Even though he studied abroad in Peru and knew he wanted to write on a history of medicine topic there,  street vendors weren’t originally on Castañeda’s radar. Reading newspapers and magazine articles piqued his interest and led him to a yearlong writing process, including visiting the cities of Lima, Cusco and Arequipa, Peru, with his father.

“Finding what to write about was something I didn’t force or stress to much about,” Castañeda said. “My history research mentors told me as I was working on the paper, as you begin to consult and interrogate primary sources, the topic or question you want to ask begins to find you — it comes to you naturally.”

Castañeda revisited his college paper as a medical student after a classmate alerted him to the Osler contest a month before the deadline. Despite a short turnaround and dealing with clinical rotations, Castañeda was able to give his thesis a proper read for the first time in five years while trimming it down to just under 30 pages.

Historical Relevancy

What made Castañeda’s essay stand out was the paper being the first on a history of medicine topic from Latin America and how relevant it was to today. The focus during Peru’s cholera epidemic on street vendors echoes the COVID-19 pandemic and the attention on the street vendors in Wuhan, China. Readers were able to connect with the topic in a way that wasn’t possible when Castañeda originally wrote it.

Castañeda’s submission further opened discourse into a topic with no prior published research, allowing him to address a historiographical gap.

“This experience just reemphasized the importance of the medical humanities,” Castañeda said. “While trying to balance life as a medical student, it can be easy to lose sight of the humanistic side of medicine. Being able to submit this research allowed me to reconnect with that interest while asking different questions and looking at problems from different perspectives — all tools that will help me further into my medical career.”

As the winner of the Osler Medal, Castañeda was invited to attend the American Association for the History of Medicine’s 2022 meeting in April and received a two-year membership in the AAHM.

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