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Medicine and the Arts


Sondheimer, Henry MD

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doi: 10.1097/01.ACM.0000345397.70811.84
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I am now far removed from the lecture halls and labs of medical school, but Logan Schneider's composite piece brings back vivid memories. Medical school is frightening. The requirements of the anatomy lab are soon followed by working with real patients. Although this is the real reason we each came to medical school, routine exposure to the human body at first comes as more of a shock than a gift. I remember quite well the edematous legs, bruised eyes, and repaired arms of my patients from the third year of medical school. For students encountering sick and broken bodies for the first time, the human body's potential to intimidate, repulse, and surprise can be shocking.

This image also reminds me that some patients, no matter how sick they seemed, were some of my most excellent teachers. Who was my best first teacher? Was it Dr. Fritts, the cardiologist who taught me how to read electrocardiograms? Or was it the unforgettable Mr. Shaffer, who had a heart attack at his 90th birthday party, whom we were all ready to write off on rounds the next morning, but who sat up in bed and asked that same cardiologist, “When are they going to get me out of this hospital?” Mr. Shaffer was soon on his way home, and I learned that even the most ailing bodies can yet surprise us.

Each of us who enters medical school knows that we will, in the end, select a career that deals not only with caring and curing, but with real human suffering. Schneider's patient is the not-always-healthy human condition that each of us has agreed to work for, to try to ameliorate, and not infrequently to merely appease. This reminder may not be beautiful, but it is always timely. Medicine is, simply, dedication to our patients, who are in fact our first and most committed teachers.

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges