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August 7, 2010

The Big Difference

I have always dreamed of becoming a doctor. The doctor is after all perceived as somebody smart, an expert in the field of medicine, a successful professional whose noble duty makes him separate from the crowd. He is the guy in immaculate white coat, strolling along the halls of the hospital, where he finds out what makes people sick and tells them the solution to their sickness. His every word is gospel truth for he is seen by his patients as somebody who knows everything. Of course, a doctor is expected to know a lot of things. After all, he has spent at least 10 years of his life reading column after column of books, not to mention consulting patients day in and day out. Of course he must learn how to diagnose and apply the appropriate treatment. That is why people seek the doctor's presence: to be cured of their illness. In the old English language, a Doctor means somebody who is "learned" or "smart", a "teacher", an intelligent almost philosopher-type of person.

Thus, every day, every medical student in every medical school would strive to master the science of medicine, the pathology of illnesses and the pharmacokinetics of every drug that can possibly be administered to any human being. A medical student would spend 3 years of perpetual studying, a year of hard labor inside a hospital and another year of preparation for the board exam, the most important test ever that would separate the wheat from the chaff.

However, it is not enough to know the diagnosis and the right medicine. Life, human life, is more complicated than just diseases and drugs. Every person has a story, a product of sequential events, leading to current circumstances. The disease is perhaps only a snapshot in a much wider panoramic picture.

It is not enough therefore to settle with just the clinical diagnosis and the medical intervention. There is greater need to learn more about the story behind the disease, the factors that led to the disease, the "causes of the causes". After all, every patient has a story to tell.

So, while it is important to memorize every bone and muscle in Anatomy, it is also equally important to recognize every heartache and worry of the patient. While it is important to memorize the metabolic pathways that might affect the patient's condition, it is also equally important to understand the dynamics of the patient's relationship with family and friends. While it is important to memorize the dosage of antibiotics and the correct calculations of how much drug to administer, it is also equally important to appreciate the patient's perspective about his illness and health. To go beyond the medical and find revelations in the social aspect of an individual requires more than just comprehension of the science of medicine.

Learning the right diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment may make you the best Doctor ever. But what we need nowadays is more than just doctors.

What we need are Physicians. The word "physician" is from an Old French word fisique which means "the art of healing". Thus a physician is a "healer". More than just "learned" men (doctors), we also are in great need of "healers" (physicians).

And to heal requires more than just the act of prescribing medicines. To heal means "to make whole", to gather that which were scattered and make them whole again. Thus, for a physician to do just that, he must be aware of the entire picture, not just the biology of the patient, but also his family, his environment, his motivations, his diet, his lifestyle, his perceptions...everything that would make the person "whole".

A doctor's best skill is to cure. A physician's best skill is to heal. Every doctor must strive to be a physician always. There is a huge difference.

1 violent reactions. React Here.:

Sonia said...

i like how you clarified the dichotomy. a doctor is more that just someone who cures, he's someone who...HEALS. This makes it all seem more worthwhile.

This was a great post, thanks. :-)

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