Is Medicine An Art – Or A Science?
A friend recently showed me a fascinating interview. Some doctors had been asked a set of intriguing questions – and their answers were just as thought-provoking.
After going through the entire collection of interviews, I thought of answering one of the questions myself. This one:
Q: Medicine is often described as an art not a science. In what ways do you find practicing medicine artful and is there a science to the art of writing? For that matter, what is the difference between art and science?
This is my reply:
Medicine is a science.
The practice of medicine, however, is both craft and art.
Take a simple act like feeling a patient’s pulse. There’s a certain technique to doing it right. Which fingers to use, where to press or touch, for how long, with what pressure. Getting it right takes learning, practice… because it’s a craft.
But there’s so much more happening while a doctor takes a patient’s pulse.
It’s an intimate, personal, human act. One that connects two individuals, a hopeful sufferer looking for a salve, and a compassionate caregiver seeking to cure. It’s more than just a physical connection… it’s a psychological bond that engenders trust, establishes rapport, initiates healing.
In that sense, it’s performance art of a high order.
Done right, it can jumpstart the process of recovery from illness – before the first test has been ordered, the opening dose of medicine swallowed, the initial discussion about diagnoses and the prognosis has begun. Because in that magical moment of personal communication, it wordlessly tells a suffering, sick soul that someone cares… and will do whatever it takes to help them.
A healing energy begins to flow from one human being to another… in a manner that isn’t taught in medical school, but that every doctor learns over the years from touching and treating hundreds of patients.
There’s absolutely nothing scientific about that. And it isn’t at all about craft. This is sheer art. And each artist (or, rather, doctor) does it in a uniquely different way. The only common thing about it is the emotional connection it fosters.
And is there a ‘science’ to writing?
Sentence and word structure. Content and cadence. Word choice and linguistic style. All can be chosen methodically, based on hypotheses that are testable and can be proven right – or wrong – in scientific fashion.
There’s a certain predictability to some forms of writing which convincingly follows the “if-then” rule-form that governs science.
But no one would reasonably argue that writing is entirely scientific. Or even mostly so. (Except, perhaps, some forms of technical writing which can be formulaic without detriment.)
I can’t be absolutely sure of this, but maybe being a doctor while also trying to write well has made me more aware of the existence of either facet… in both disciplines.
Interesting how I haven’t thought about this before – until reading this set of questions!