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A Piece of My Mind
April 18, 2001

Lost in a Dark Wood

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2001;285(15):1938-1939. doi:10.1001/jama.285.15.1938

It is difficult to get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. —William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

Difficult in any era, the practice of medicine today seems accompanied by so much unhappiness I am convinced that if clinicians en masse took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, there would be a significant elevation of scale 2 (depression). If there were a "medicine as fun" scale, it would be inversely decreased, with the largest decrement in the scores of those who have practiced for more than a decade. This is unfortunate, considering the talent and dedication of physicians, most of whom simply want to do the very best for their patients, often at great cost to themselves and their loved ones.1 Applying what the poet David Whyte said of the corporate world, we too are living in medicine the opening line of Dante's Inferno: "In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost" (Sayers/Reynolds translation). One of my concerns is that as physicians progressively alter their medical practices to deal with the extraneous "market" forces acting on them, they are displaced further from "the true way." Worse, we may forget where we were heading in the first place: toward fulfilling a life vow to serve those in need, a goal that too often now seems more burden than privilege. Yet, another wisdom text offers hope—and direction. The 2500-year-old Tao Te Ching reminds us that "he who does not lose his station will endure."