Bioethics Discussion Blog: Achieving Perfection in Medicine

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Achieving Perfection in Medicine

Life's Tragedy

by Paul Laurence Dunbar
1872-1906

It may be misery not to sing at all,
And to go silent through the brimming day;
It may be misery never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To sing the perfect song,
And by a half-tone lost the key,
There the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.

To have come near to the perfect love,
Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lies aside its vanity,
And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.

This, this indeed is to be accursed,
For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by what we have,
But by what kept us from that perfect thing.


Achieving Perfection in Medicine...
But is that possible and is that expected of physicians? Is anything less than perfection, even a mistake, an error, represent intolerable behavior and result for a physician? Are we held to a higher standard because we can hold life and death in our own hands? Is the physician's excuse a valid and rational one that making errors provides a means for the physician to learn. And where is the line drawn between a good and a harm?

Read this
University of California School of Medicine Commencement 2005 Senior Address by Peter de Blank
about making mistakes in medical school and in medicine.

Should physicians take the view of the poet Dunbar and “count our joys” not by what our imperfect medical results have accomplished but only when we have attained the “miracle” our patients may desire? ..Maurice.

3 Comments:

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 8:11:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

Would joy be perfect if there were nothing left to achieve? Nothing to strive for?

Why continue to practice medicine if it poses absolutely no challenge, no need to attain a further goal?

I think that once all of the questions are answered, and medicine is practiced only by "technicians" who have miracles at their fingertips, that it will begin to draw a different type person ...

 
At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 11:33:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Moof, you have found the word which defines the practical limits of the goal in medicine,practice. I wonder how many patients who use that word in talking about their doctors truely realize that the use word "practice" means literally that, "practice". Perhaps, if they did, they would be more tolerant to the physician's lack of perfection in the work of his or her profession.! ..Maurice.

 
At Wednesday, September 13, 2006 7:57:00 PM, Anonymous Jaine said...

Maurice it is up to the medical profession to make sure the use of the word ‘practice’ is reasonable. The example given to me by a doctor was this. He delivered 400 babies while training. He pointed out that some doctors deliver as few as 10 babies during their training.

Both are certified to do the same job and yet one is practicing medicine while the other is practicing being a doctor. There are stupid mistakes and there are intelligent mistakes. I’ve been subjected to both forms by doctors. The stupid mistake is unforgivable whereas the intelligent mistake is unfortunate. Yet in the eyes of the medical community both are simply unfortunate. I don’t think many patients actually expect miracles but I also don’t think they expect to be viewed as toys to be practiced on. Doctors should feel joy when they practice medicine and shame when they practice being doctors on patients who don’t have a clue they are being used for practice.

 

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