Putting Humanity and the Humanities Back Into Medicine

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” — Hippocrates

Medicine has always had a close relationship to the liberal arts. Many great thinkers have been physicians: Aristotle, Maimonides, Linnaeus, Darwin, Freud. And some great writers: Rabelais, Schiller, Keats, Chekhov, Conan Doyle. And there have been physicians who write with great eloquence about disease and medical practise: Hippocrates, Galen, Burton, Sydenham, Osler, Thomas.

Healing has until recently been mostly art, usually unaided by scientifically proven treatments that could actually heal. In fact, most of the treatments delivered during the thousands of years of medical history have been much more harmful than helpful. Think bleeding, emetics, cathartics, and heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. Doctors remained popular and prestigious even when they were engaged in activities that made their patients miserable and sometimes killed them.

The best doctors were those who followed the advice of Hippocrates to pay attention to the patient, not just the disease, and to render treatments that would first do no harm. They formed healing relationships with patients, understood their needs and psychology, and helped them mobilize natural resiliency to face and fight illness.

A physician was expected to cultivate wide knowledge of people and the world.

The relationship between medical art and science is changing rapidly, with the science now overwhelming the art. Doctors more and more function like technicians, not healers.

This would be fine if the advancing science were actually providing the technical tools to effect healing without a continuing need for medical art.

But sadly, this is usually not the case. Medical treatments are still often over sold and over bought — technical fixes that don’t really fix and too often have their own set of harms.

For most diseases, we have made little progress —> Read More