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JAMA Revisited
November 3, 2015

Knowledge and Wisdom in Medicine

JAMA. 2015;314(17):1878. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12070

Originally Published November 4, 1905 | JAMA. 1905;45(19):1408.

It has become the custom to select some motto which seems particularly to represent a basic principle in one’s life work, and to have it framed and hung so as often to come under one’s eye. We know of no words of wisdom that could be more precious in this respect for the physician to see frequently than certain lines of Cowper, on knowledge and wisdom. It is not an unusual impression among members of the profession that the more practice a man does and the more hospital appointments he holds, the more likely is he to gain that larger wisdom which enables him to diagnose readily and with assurance and so to be of special service in consultation. There is many a “pluralist” among us holding hospital appointments, the duties of which he is scarcely able to fulfill and yet who is not ready to resign because he feels that the apparent experience which they enable him to gain must somehow prove of use to him in adding to his store of medical wisdom. But alas! the “pluralist” in medicine does quite as much harm as the holder of several ecclesiastical appointments to whom therefore the name was first applied. Like his religious prototype, he harms himself and others. For him surely Cowper’s words will show the vanity of over-occupation: