The “Art” of Medicine is Making a Comeback
If medicine is both an art and a science, it is Tom Hutchinson’s contention that the art was too often ignored in the 20th century. But in the 21st century, the art is making a comeback, and perhaps no medical school is better equipped to show the way than McGill. Whole Person Care: A New Paradigm for the 21st Century, edited by Hutchinson, brings together Balfour Mount, Richard and Sylvia Cruess, Abraham Fuks, BSc’68, MDCM’70, and numerous other experts to explore how the field of medicine is reviving the tradition of physician-as-healer and ensuring a transformation of today’s fast-paced and technologically advanced health care system. Whole Person Care will be launched November 18, 2011.
“Patients are less and less happy with the medical profession because at a deep level they’re not getting what they need,” says Hutchinson. Currently Director of McGill Programs in Whole Person Care, as well as attending physician in the Division of Palliative Medicine at the McGill University Health Centre, Hutchinson’s career has followed the path that he felt would best address this apparent dissatisfaction among patients. Starting out as a nephrologist, he dramatically changed course in the 1980s after meeting Virginia Satir, the renowned family therapist. “[From her] I learned a lot about people and how they respond to difficult issues in their lives and how you can help them,” Hutchinson says. He made the switch to palliative medicine, working alongside Balfour Mount, and grew in his conviction that “the basis of medicine is not science; the basis of medicine is relating to other human beings and helping them through illness.”
As the Cruesses argue in their chapter, “the evolution of the practice of medicine, whose history is firmly rooted in the art of healing, is paradoxical.” It would appear that “whole person care” was something that physicians such as Hippocrates, and his forebears and successors, were doing well before the term was coined. But with the advent of the scientific era of medicine in the 19th century, and with the increasing specialization that occurred over the second half of the last century, whole person care appeared to decline. The paradox is that medicine can cure more ailments for more patients than ever before, yet trust in health care practitioners is declining and patients long for a return to a meaningful one-on-one relationship with a physician.
Whole Person Care argues for a new paradigm in which the empirical methods of science are entwined with the art of healing, which requires going beyond a focus on a body and its diseases to encompass the individual suffering with the disease. In his chapter, Eric Cassell makes a useful analogy to another profession: “Architects, for example, do not join two kinds of knowledge – aesthetics and engineering – at the end of their design. These … are an entwined part of their thinking all the time…”
Through chapters on “mindfulness” – an approach to medical practice that requires openness and perceptual clarity – as well as on the language of medicine, alternative therapies, the role of death anxiety, professionalism, genetics, and other topics, Whole Person Care serves as a guide for students, practitioners, teachers and the general public.
When asked if McGill is unique in its attention to whole person care (the current MDCM curriculum comes to mind), Hutchinson argues that it is, and that’s due, in part, to the Oslerian tradition, “which is extremely strong at McGill.” It is from Sir William Osler, after all, that Hutchinson borrowed the book’s introductory epigram: “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.”
Whole Person Care is published by Springer and will be launched at the McGill Bookstore on November 18. Click here for more information. Tom Hutchinson’s introduction will be followed by comments from Balfour Mount and other distinguished guests. To attend, RSVP at email@example.com or 514-398-8679.