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Poetry and Medicine
August 10, 2011

Number Needed to Treat

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

Author Affiliation: Medical Faculty Associates, George Washington University,Washington, DC (apossner@mfa.gwu.edu).

JAMA. 2011;306(6):587. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.966

It rolls off the tongue
 six syllables
  four words
   two parts with a taste
of alliteration.
A number derived
 from faith in numbers
  and the sacrifice of number one
   upon the altar
of absolute risk reduction.
It teaches
 treating one patient
  is rarely enough
   to make a difference
to one patient.
It promises
 cast this pill
  into this many stomachs
   and one day in at least one patient
your wish will come true.
One after another my patients thank me
 for something
  that will probably do nothing
   except for that one—
eeny meeny miny moe.

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