The physician’s duty is to the patient-the “one who suffers” (Wikipedia, accessed 12/26/2011).
Care of the patient is the reasonthat the profession of medicine exists. Many of us go into medicine because we want to make a difference in other people’s lives-to relieve the suffering of others, and where possible, to prevent disease.
The study of medicine (or medical education) is a process of acquiring knowledge and skill, and developing good clinical judgment, which is the basis of becoming healers, physicians. The educational process does not stop at graduation from medical school or a residency or fellowship program; it is a commitment to life-long learning. It is a commitment to studying, consulting our colleagues, using good observational and information gathering skills, andself-care.
The practice of medicine encompasses both the science and the art of medicine. The science is the research, the evidence we use to guide our treatment plans and clinical decisions. The art of medicine is more difficult to achieve, but not impossible. It entails skillful communication with our patients as we elicit their story (or history), good listening skills, knowing when and how to apply the science to a particular patient, as well as good overall clinical judgment. It is important to realize that if we acquire a large body of knowledge with an evidence-based focus, but have poor clinical judgment, the knowledge becomes meaningless without the ability to effectively apply it.
Both skills-the art and science of medicine-require attention and practice, practice, practice. I believe when we become skillful at combining the art and science of medicine, we become the healers we are meant to be, and not just practitioners.
Medical education is also about work-life balance, self-care. That is, taking care of and time for ourselves, effectively managing commitment to work and our personal lives, and taking time to nurture important relationships. An unhealthy physician cannot give their best to the care of their patients; they cannot be healers.
Self-care is partly about doing for ourselves what we ask our patients to do ? “stop smoking” “stop drinking heavily”,“exercisemore”, “get a proper night’s rest”, and any number of other things we advise our patients to do. Medical education starts with us, the physician doing what is best and healthy for him- or herself, then we can give our patients the best of what we have to offer.
Sandra Moody, M.D., B.S.N.