Right up to the last minute, Flemish Koen Schruers (48), senior lecturer at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life sciences, had doubts about which study to choose. “On the day of registration at the university in Diepenbeek (now University of Hasselt, ed.), there was the choice between a pink or a blue form. Pink was for medicine, blue for physics. I chose pink, but for the research, because I was convinced that patient care was not my thing.” Doubts about the choice of study remained. Schruers: “I felt it was all very shallow and not mathematical enough. It was neither one thing nor the other.”
That changed in his second year, when he had lessons from the neurosurgeon Emile Beuls, at that time a lecturer at the university and a clinician. “The other lecturers’ egos just about fitted in the lecture hall. Beuls on the other hand was an amiable man with a desire to explain things, to get something across. The brains that he spoke about, that was it for me. I decided then that this was what I wanted to keep doing.”
Because Schruers wanted to try out the clinical work, he arranged an internship with Beuls at the hospital in Genk at the end of the nineteen-eighties. “I was mainly in the way, because as a third-year student you are not allowed to do anything. Nevertheless, Beuls gave me the chance to get a look at everything. I gained unabashed admiration for him, also as a human being. He was congenial in his contacts and patient despite having to work against the clock. I saw how he combined research and patient care. I really liked that. In that sense I followed in his footsteps, even though I did not choose neurosurgery.” I opted for psychiatry.
More than ten years later, they met again. Schruers was a senior lecturer and Beuls a professor at the UM. “He asked me why I hadn’t become a neurosurgeon. Technically I find it a very interesting field, but the pathology does nothing for me. Someone has a one-sided paralysis, you do something about it and the problem is solved. In psychiatry, it is much more complicated. The relation between what you do and the results of that, is more vague but more fascinating. At the same time that vagueness bothers me. That is my ambivalence. What I didn’t like about the neurosurgery, the univocality, I miss in psychiatry.”
Beuls, now emeritus professor, is still active as an expert. He regularly acts as an expert in court cases where head injuries play a role. Last year, for example, he gave his opinion in a case in Flanders about a deceased baby, allegedly battered to death, and in the case of the deceased Dutch linesman Nieuwenhuizen. He is also present on social media. “Besides the combination of research and patient care, I also have Beuls to thank for my LinkedIn profile,” Schruers laughs. “I was totally against Facebook and LinkedIn, until a year ago when I received an invitation from him. I accepted it. My respect for the man is too great to refuse such a request.”