October 2, 1996


JAMA. 1996;276(13):1093-1099. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540130091042

Medicine has long affirmed a two-fold commitment to the humane arts: first, and always foremost, there is the obligation to provide humane service. Second, there is medicine's commitment to humane learning, a centuries-old undertaking that includes knowledge of the natural sciences and of those "liberal" disciplines chiefly represented by history, philosophy, literature, and the social sciences. While attending the sick remains the physician's primary duty, it is this latter knowledge, embodied in the liberal arts, that has secured medicine's traditional status alongside law and theology as one of the three learned professions.1

In this century, medicine's increasingly technocentric focus has threatened that status. On an ever larger scale, the profession has indulged its scientific side, and while none can doubt the success resulting from that emphasis, there is concern nonetheless that it comes at the expense of medicine's humanity—that while physicians have grown more proficient, they have also become narrow and less caring.2