Tom Ferguson: Publisher of the Magazine Medical Self-Care

This Plowboy Interview is with medical student Tom Ferguson, founder of the magazine Medical Self-Care. The magazine highlights some of the problems in the health care system.

  • Tom Ferguson, a fourth-year Yale Medical School and publisher of Medical Self-Care magazine, promotes preventative care.
    Tom Ferguson, a fourth-year Yale Medical School and publisher of Medical Self-Care magazine, promotes preventative care.

  • Tom Ferguson, a fourth-year Yale Medical School and publisher of Medical Self-Care magazine, promotes preventative care.

This Plowboy Interview is with Tom Ferguson, an advocate for the idea of health care being handed back to the consumer.

Whatever else 1978 is remembered for, it will — without a doubt — go down in history as a record year for medical expenses here in the United States. All indications are that before the calendar year is out, 216 million Americans will have spent $139 billion (8.6 percent of the Gross National Product) on drugs, X-rays, surgery, physicians' fees, laboratory tests, hospital overhead, health insurance, etc. That's up from the $39 billion (5.9 percent of GNP) medical care cost in 1965 . . . just 13 years ago. 

As Ivan Illich points out in his book, Medical Nemesis (1976, Pantheon Books), medical spending in the U.S. has reached the point where the construction of a new hospital costs in excess of $85,000 per bed, of which two-thirds goes for mechanical equipment that becomes obsolete within less than a decade. "These rates, " Illich observes, "are almost twice those of the cost increases and of the obsolescence prevalent in modern weapons systems. Cost overruns in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare exceed those in the Pentagon. " 

Clearly, the medical establishment has become a threat to the average American's budget (if not his health). Which is one reason why medical self-care — the idea that health care should, to some degree, be taken out of the hands of physicians and put back into the hands of consumers — has started to become so popular in this country over the past few years, and why a fourth-year Yale medical student by the name of Tom Ferguson decided — in the spring of 1976 — to launch a magazine called (appropriately enough) Medical Self-Care.

Ferguson himself describes the periodical — now in its third year of publication — as "a medical Popular Mechanics, a Whole Earth Catalog of the best medical books, tools, and resources, a Consumer Reports focusing on health care." In each (quarterly) issue of the magazine, Tom strives to bring his readers [1] thumbnail reviews of the best popular medical books, [2] articles that teach basic paramedical skills, [3] stories on the way lifestyle can affect health, [4] information on how to go about using the available "medical literature" (textbooks and journals), [5] news of the growing medical self-care movement, and [6] a list of the latest medical self-care classes around the country. 

Tom could hardly be better qualified to edit and write a medical access journal. At 34 years of age, Ferguson is a physician, a former health worker for VISTA, Medical Editor of Co-Evolution Quarterly, and the holder of B.A. and M.A. degrees in creative writing from California State University at San Francisco. Thanks to the almost explosive popularity of his magazine, Tom is also now one of the medical self-care movement's most visible — and highly regarded — spokespersons. 



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