How Philosophy Helps the Physician

Philosophy teaches us the most important lessons of life, lessons on Ethics and Morality, our role in the Universe, the purpose of our existence and so many more. 

The ultimate search has always been the one that seeks to know within – ‘Gnothi Seuaton’ says ancient Greek wisdom from many centuries ago – Know Thyself.

So how does philosophical teachings help the physician?

We can do no better than to start with the first moral Philosopher of ancient western thought – 

Socrates

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear”. 

Nothing could be clearer than this simple maxim- take all the steps necessary to establish a good reputation – work hard towards that goal.

Kant 

Let’s start with issues of Morality as enunciated by Immanuel Kant – the Categorical Imperative. 

– Act as if your every act should become an international law –  every interaction with a patient must be governed by the purest of motives and backed by the latest knowledge. Every opinion you give, every prescription you write should be a model by itself.

– Your interaction with another human should be a means and end by itself – If my interaction with a patient is to determine how soon I can get him on the operating table for a knee replacement I am using the patient as a means. I am doing him a discourtesy by not respecting the human in him.

Sartre

Expanding on his core philosophy of Existentialism, Sartre goes on to say- ‘Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.’

So when you come out of medical college as a fresh graduate your medical career stretches out before you and what you chose to do with it is your choice – You could be the physician who investigates without thinking, who admits a patient without reason and who advises a surgery purely for financial gain for self. Or you could be the brilliant dedicated physician or surgeon who strives towards excellence and care for the patient – your choices determine what kind of a doctor you become.

Nietzsche

“Anything that does not kill you makes you stronger” – and that is an important life lesson for all of us. You have to emerge stronger (and wiser) after every surgical complication, after every patient that you failed to diagnose right, after every patient that you lose to the Grim Reaper. You just have to try harder, become stronger and better.

Echoing Dr Faustus’ observation – “Ubi desinit philosophus, ibi incipit medicus”

– Where the philosopher ends, there the physician begins.

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