In medical terminology, the words history and physical almost always appear together in that order. As a physician, you do not engage a patient in the intimate pas de deux of a neurological examination until you’ve gathered the details of his or her debilitating headaches. You do not begin palpating the abdomen for some hidden point of tenderness until you’ve heard the details of the pain from start to finish.
But there is one time in our medical careers when we are instructed to perform the most thorough physical examination possible without learning so much as the patient’s name. We cannot ask her how many cigarettes she smoked per day; instead we can only look for discoloration and damage to her lungs and make assumptions. We note the absence of a uterus and wonder if a hysterectomy was performed after a harrowing birth or to prevent the spread of an insidious cancer weaving through her womb. All we are given is an anatomy table number, an age, and a cause of death. We work our way through the medical school rite of passage that is anatomy lab—inspecting, searching, and feeling every muscle, bone, and organ—and we write our patients’ histories ourselves.
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Kette B. History Taking in the Anatomy Lab. JAMA. 2019;321(17):1669. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.4741
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