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October 22, 1982

On the Relevance of History

Author Affiliations

Baylor College of Medicine Houston

JAMA. 1982;248(16):1971. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330160023004

To the Editor.—  As physicians, we are trained to think of the patient in historical terms. A clinical history is an indispensable part of any examination. In psychiatry, Freud, taking the concept from the poet Wordsworth, postulated that "the child is father to the man." Yet we do not apply the same reasoning to medicine as a whole. If a person's presence can not be fully understood unless we see it in context and longitudinally, as the result of a lifelong process of development, how can we disregard the same logic when it applies to our profession? Santayana's dictum is inescapable: "Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it."The history of medicine makes us aware of all facets of our endeavor. It shows us how wise Hippocrates was when he admonished us to "first, do not harm" and how innumerable iatrogenic symptoms and diseases have emerged throughout the