The art and science of medicine

One thing which has always intrigued me is the statement that ‘medicine is both an art and science’. Having completed the two years of my preclinical medical sciences and one year of pharmacology as a natural science subject, I have come to understand the second part of the statement – medicine as a science. And now, on the threshold between the preclinical and clinical phases of my medical training, I feel it is timely to ponder upon the ‘art of medicine’.

What exactly is the ‘art of medicine’?

Well, according to Eugene Braunwald, MD et al. (2006):


When a patient poses challenging clinical problems, an effective physician must be able to identify the crucial elements in a complex history and physical examination, and to extract the key laboratory results from the crowded computer printouts of data, in order to determine whether to ‘treat’ or to ‘watch’.

Deciding whether a clinical clue is worth pursuing or should be dismissed as a ‘red herring’ and weighing whether a proposed treatment entails a greater risk than the disease itself are essential judgments that the skilled clinician must make many times each day.

This combination of medical knowledge, intuition, experience, and judgment defines the art of medicine, which is as necessary to the practice of medicine as is a sound scientific base


So, basically, all the amount of textbook medical knowledge will be worthless if a clinician fails to exercise prudent judgment in evaluating the clinical signs and symptoms. Thus, a competent clinician is one who has mastery of BOTH the science and art of medicine.

But does this de-emphasize the importance of having a sound knowledge in the medical sciences? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. In fact, the opposite is true. Without a good grounding in the sciences, the physician is analogous to a person with visual agnosia (well, not literally, but figuratively) – in that, one is able to observe and extract the signs and symptoms from the patient, but fails to relate them to a coherent body of medical knowledge.

1 Comment

  1. Tracy Lai

    June 9, 2007 @ 9:58 pm


    Nice post! Enjoyed reading your blog.

    I think the art of medicine also involves good communication skills and establishing rapport…so that the patient will trust in you and comply to your treatment

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