What is the essential unit of medical practice?

Medicine and surgery is constantly changing or so it seems. New technology changes the process and technique of medicine and surgery but has the core of human interaction that underpins medicine really changed?

Sir James Spence (1892 – 1954) was a paediatrician who lived and worked in Newcastle in the North East of England. He was a man ahead of his time who genuinely cared about his patients. He was also a man who thought about what he was doing in real terms. This quotation below is from his musings about the nature of medicine.

“The real work of a doctor is not an affair of health centres, or laboratories, or hospital beds. Techniques have their place in medicine, but they are not medicine.”

He went on to make a statement  which was copied out in beautiful sepia copperplate writing, framed  and hung on a wall for years in the Surgical Consultation Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. A conversation with my wife @Lynneahpd (unusual name I know) reminded me of it and I was delighted to find this morning that Sister McMorran who runs the new surgical outpatient clinic had kept it. The statement was:-

” The essential unit of medical practice is the occasion when, in the intimacy of the consulting room or sick room, a person who is ill, or believes himself to be ill, seeks the advice of a doctor whom he trusts. This is a consultation, and all else in the practice of medicine derives from it.”

Sir James Spence

In spite of all the changes that have occurred in medicine over the past 50 years since this statement was made, it could be argued that this element of the nature of human interaction in medicine is as important now as it was back then.

Sir James Spence

Image from http://www.thousandfamilies.com/60.php


© 2012 SJ Wigmore

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2 Responses to What is the essential unit of medical practice?

  1. Nice start.
    The reason why we’re always doctors first and surgeons second and why I went into medicine.

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