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A Piece of My Mind
September 4, 2013

The Good Physician

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois
JAMA. 2013;310(9):909. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.276135

There exist in this world infinite measures and parameters by which we judge the goodness of things. In the field of medicine, in particular, a mastery of these measures is considered the most noble of quests. Thus as physicians we are trained to be confident in our science. In that incredible, edible, empirical! We make recommendations to our patients on a daily basis: Mrs S should lower her cholesterol, Mr M should take that antibiotic. Advice offered reassuringly on our collective confidence in tangible outcomes. Yet a physician is more than the sum of her scientific chutzpah. Medicine in its entirety is as much art as it is science. To the novice physician this concept is unformed, theoretical at best. To the seasoned physician it is care within the context of a profound awareness of the human condition. Mastery of this art is a key component of good physicianhood. Yet unlike science, art is a study of intangibilities. Beautiful, spiritual, elusive. When judging the relative goodness of our art, we are confounded. Who then is the “good” physician? What makes a physician “good” vs “average”? This distinction seems subjective, threatening. In the empirical world, we have tests that can determine the extent of our knowledge, but what scales exist to measure the weight of our empathy?