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December 5, 1977

Lost in Metrication

JAMA. 1977;238(23):2532. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280240078033

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Old-times who trained before the metric era caught up with medicine remember well how difficult it was to adapt to the early inroads of the metric system. With drams, ounces, minims, and grains ingrained in the mind, it was a struggle to engram into it grams, milligrams, and cubic centimeters. Conversions were a chore. But the metric system was the wave of the future, and to resist its onward surge was patently futile. It was equally futile to resist its lateral motion when milliequivalents began to replace milligrams percent. This too was taken in stride as a necessary step in the march of progress.

In grappling with the metric system, the physician could not count on sympathy from the layman to whom the old English units of prescribed drugs meant little. The patient about to receive a hypodermic injection of morphine could not care less whether the dose was 1/4