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February 5, 1997


JAMA. 1997;277(5):431-438. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540290083045

Few fields of human endeavor lie as uncomfortably close as medicine and the arts. Though Hippocrates defined medicine as "the most distinguished of all the arts," physicians resist the artist label, afraid perhaps of the imprecision and intuitiveness that "art" implies. In class and on the wards, we as medical students are repeatedly reminded, however, that medicine is an art; yet the tone of that reminder can vary from enthusiastic affirmation to dour sarcasm.

Despite this confusion, or perhaps because of it, the arts and medicine dance an endless pas de deux, here dipping, there twirling with a flourish. Physicians become artists and artists become physicians. Medical thinking can be pushed forward by artistic renderings of scientific speculation, as in the case of medical illustration. Alternatively, medical events can inspire literature, and literature, in turn, can inform the empathy at the heart of medicine. In truth, in every history we write, we make literature; in every