When I was contemplating a medical career, my mother gave me a little book, by Felix Marti-Ibanez, MD, former Professor and Chairman of the Department of the History of Medicine, New York Medical College, which was a compilation of essays entitled To Be a Doctor, The Young Princes, and The Race and The Runner (MD Publications, NY 1960). I read it avidly thinking that it would be a “how to” to me. If found out that more importantly it was about what it means to be a doctor. This is my favorite passage:
“Man is the only creature to make tools with which to make other tools, and of all the tools made by him words are the most important. The fabric of medicine is woven with words that express the ideas from which they sprang. The original meaning of the three words physician, medic, doctor – that describe our profession is highly illuminating. The word “physician” derives from the Greek physis, or nature, denoting that the physician has his roots in an understanding of the nature of things; the word “medic” comes from mederi, to heal, and the root med means to meditate or think, so that medic is equivalent to thinker and healer; the word “doctor” originally meant master, instructor. Thus, semantically, our profession involves learning, knowing, healing and teaching.
In turn, the word “medicine” not only means what medical men do (many of the great figures in medical history, such as Pastuer and Leeuwenhock, were not physicians), but also denotes a social science that uses the methods of natural sciences to attain four objectives: to promote health, to restore health, to prevent disease and to rehabilitate the patient.
Every day, more and more, medicine becomes, above all, the prevention of disease and the promotion of health. For only by knowing the healthy man can we cure him when he falls ill. Knowledge of the healthy man is obtained by studying or fellow beings, both the healthy and the diseased, not only in the mirror of classical and modern medical literature but also in current newspapers. You will learn that poverty is still the main social cause of disease, just as it was in the archaic times.
The history of medicine epitomizes the history of civilization. The history of man has passed through three great stages: man learned to master nature by yielding to her laws; he learned to live in society by establishing the first communities; he acquired consciousness of his human dignity and of his ability to forge his own destiny, which in turn enabled him to acquire greatness.
The physician in his threefold capacity, as a professional, as a member of society, and as a human being, has throughout history helped man in his physical, mental and social ascent. As a professional man in particular, they physician has always acted as healer, using magic, faith, empiricism, or rational resources; as a knower, for he knows the secrets of nature and of the human being; as a preventer, for he can arrest disease by forestalling its vanguards before they arrive; and as an organizer, for he can guide society in fighting the historicosocial process called disease. To heal, to know, to prevent, to organize – these will be your four future spheres of professional activity, embraced in the expression “to be a doctor.”
To be a doctor, then means much more than to dispense pills or to patch up or repair torn flesh and shattered minds. To be a doctor is to be in intermediary between man and God.”
I hope this helps you, who visit this site, to understand the vision than ultimately animates my philosophy of medicine and the practice of medicine in this office.