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September 5, 1977

What Are Physicians For?

JAMA. 1977;238(10):1029-1031. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280110033016

To make this interaction (between doctor and patient) as productive as possible in terms of the relief of human suffering is the object of everything we do in medicine.1

WHAT are physicians for? Does anyone know the answer to this question anymore? One reads and hears a variety of answers, from the very narrow to the extremely broad. Physicians, some argue, should attend to what they know best. The proper business of medicine is pathology, the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Others argue that disease must be seen contextually, as belonging to a whole human being who is a part of a web of relationships, who holds a certain job, has responsibilities, shares this belief system and not that, and so on. For the disease-oriented physician, this latter approach only clutters the mind and confuses the issue. For the advocate of the whole-man approach, focusing on disease alone is