Everyday medical practice, as takes place in the context of inter-personal relationships, has always kept an extra-scientific dimension. The physician’s way of doing is concurrently influenced on one side by this humanistic component and on the other side by the clinical reasoning, grounded on objective, statistically analysed observations and on their biochemical and pathophysiological interpretation. However, it is common opinion that in the last decades the former of these two aspects of medicine is quite vanishing, pushed away by the scientific and technical progress and by socio-economic constraints.

Starting with the first issue of 2008 (no. 9606 of January 11), the “Perspectives” section of The Lancet contains a weekly article on medicine interpreted as an art. The three ones published to date are dedicated to the caregiving of patients with serious impairment of their physical integrity 1, to the role that literature and poetry can play in medical practice 2 and to medicine-driven concepts of world and social utopias.

These short papers are particularly stimulating. Thinking about the sense of medical profession is essential for those of us who do not resign to reducing patients’ care to a “burden”, like an economist could conceive, or to something to “cope”, like a psychologist could say; and for those who disagree to consider it mainly in terms of resource allocation, as a health service manager could ask, or even in terms of clinical skill, like many of us actually do 1. Kleinman, Ofri and Lawrence show us that humanities (literature, history, music, ethics) and religion can offer a valuable contribution to develop the ability to take care, which is, according to Kleinman, “an existential quality” of the human being and needs help to grow. The physician must learn to acknowledge the patient as a suffering person and to offer him suitable instruments to cope his situation. In this view, this author suggests that in medical school the theoretic study be complemented with concrete experiences and an appropriate humanistic education. 

Teodoro Marotta, Napoli, Italy

Local Heath Unit “Napoli, Naples, Italy - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1 Kleinman A. The art of medicine. Catastrophe and caregiving: the failure of medicine as an art. Lancet 2008; 371: 22-23.

2 Ofri D. The art of medicine. The muse on the medical wards. Lancet 2008; 371: 110-111.

3 C. The art of medicine. Hippocrates, society, and utopia. Lancet 2008; 371: 198-199.


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