The lost art of healing

We physicians would do well to remember that patients need empathy and psychological supportno less than an accurate diagnosis and the application of appropriate treatment

September 19, 2007 11:39
2 minute read.
healing metro 88 224

healing metro 88 224. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Prior to commencing studies for the medical profession, one has to have completed courses in mathematics and physical science. In the first years of study at university, courses in physics and chemistry, followed by physiology and biochemistry further point to the fact that medical practitioners need to have a good basic knowledge of science. When one enters the clinical years of study, one learns that while the basis for our profession is scientific, the practice of medicine is, in fact, an art. Those who do not wish to participate in this art take further studies in physiology or other basic sciences, and embark on careers of pure research. The art of medicine involves establishing a diagnosis and prescribing or administering treatment. The diagnostic art was particularly important in my own field of practice, namely cardiology. It provided me with many years of great enjoyment of my work. With all the technological advances over the past half a century, this art has become less and less important and it would be fair to say that cardiology today is, in fact, more of a technocracy. What is of concern to the older generation of physicians is the fact that, pari passu with technological advances, what has suffered, unnecessarily, is the art of healing. This became especially noticeable to me during and after my wife's recent prolonged admission to hospital. What do I mean by the art of healing? Of course, an accurate diagnosis and application of appropriate treatment are essential pre-requisites. But for healing to be effective, the patient has to be confident and adequately reassured as to his progress. He has to feel that the medical staff have empathy for him and his family, and he has to experience a degree of psychological support. So often the doctors visiting my wife while doing their rounds would discuss her case and leave without saying a word to her. A few words of reassurance accompanied by a gesture such as holding her hand - and certainly smiling while talking - would have made a great difference to the healing process. Indeed, after a few days in hospital, my wife mentioned to a young doctor how much a greeting accompanied by a smile would be appreciated. We are all familiar with the fact that in modern medical practice, the doctor in his office is faced with his computer and often fails to look at the patient at any time during the consultation. A few glances at the patient, and especially sufficient time being applied to a physical examination with appropriate information given at that time, can work wonders. We in the medical profession have wondered at the popularity of what is today known as "alternative" or "complementary" medicine. While some forms have been accepted by the profession as being physically beneficial, even if a physiological explanation is not apparent, many are well-accepted by the public even though claims of cures are so often exaggerated and unconfirmed. Why are these treatments so popular and well accepted? Because the practitioners concerned are expert at applying the art of healing, which we, as physicians would do well to emulate.

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