The Greatest Teacher of All

The root of the word doctor, means to teach. In a classic book of morals, named Pirkei Avot or Ethics of the Fathers, a much translated work of Hebrew, one that has become somewhat popular in Chinese due to its moral Confucian-like aphorisms, there is one saying by Rabbi Hanina : “Rabbi Ḥanina said: I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.”

If a doctor is supposed to be a teacher, how does a doctor learn from his patients. Well, quite frankly, most don’t, doctors these days are under major time constraints such that modern medicine has often become cookie cooker medicine, that doesn’t allow an interaction that would benefit a healing relationship.

Yet, to regain the sacredness of that healing relationship and the reason why it is called the “practice of medicine” each new patient presents an incredible opportunity to learn. Dr. Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine even if we have strayed from his wise precepts said “Just listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

The skill of listening OUTSIDE of the rules of conventional medicine are what are required, because each and every day of seeing patients is an opportunity to learn more about how the circumstances of life are contributing to the illnesses that we see.

No one has yet to account for why one person gets infected over another as an example. It is chalked up to immune system differences or other factors but really listening to the patient can often turn up circumstances that have caused stress or major life changes that with them often come changes in health.

These are all opportunities for both the doctor and the patient to see health as a composite picture with many contributing factors. A “diagnosis” often shuts down any sort of search for other factors when in fact, it should do nothing of the sort. With auto-immune disease, I and others have found that the onset of these diseases correlate often with some major life change or trauma. With that information on hand there are various strategies that can be implemented to account for this in a proactive way.

Ultimately, it is the doctors job to be open to learning from his patients. It is another reason again, why the call it the practice of medicine and with that I will leave you with another remarkable quote from Sir William Osler that can change any doctors mindset when seeing a patient :”It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.”

Published by

Jonathan Carp, MD

Dermatologist, health food entrepreneur, beach addict, and health teacher.