He Knew the Art But Not the Trade

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John Arbuthnot (1667–1735) served as physician to Queen Anne of England at the turn of the eighteenth century. Recognized by his friends, the English poet Alexander Pope and Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, to possess great wit and compassion, John Arbuthnot was not always conscientious about his business affairs; and as a writer he often allowed others to take credit for his work. Swift noted that, as a man, Arbuthnot was “singularly careless of his literary fame, published his best things anonymously, and let his friends edit and alter them at will.” Upon the death of Queen Anne, Arbuthnot and other members of the queen’s court were discharged. Swift lamented this change and said of Arbuthnot’s dismissal, “He knew his art but not his trade.” Evidently, the distinguished court physician was not an impressive businessman; for this aspect of his profession suffered as he focused solely on the care of his patients. Nevertheless, his nurturing and benevolent characteristics were recognized by his patients and society alike. These values persist to modern day, for it is understood that one of the highest accolades a patient can give his physician is that he or she practices the art of medicine.

I have practiced medicine for more than 25 years and have taught for most of that time. Still, I know that I have not fully mastered the art of medicine. However, I think I know something about you, the reader of this blog. Each of you knows the importance of mastering the art and is aware of its critical role in delivering total patient care. Yet I suspect you recognize that there is much more to learn. You view yourself as an incomplete physician. You are idealistic and strive to be a “good doctor,” and you truly care about caring for others. Congratulations! This says volumes about you. It means that you know who you are and who you want to be.

You, the reader of this blog, are among a self-selected group of high-aspiring physicians, physicians-to-be, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants joined by numerous other healthcare workers from differing fields, such as nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, social work, clinical psychology, optometry, and podiatry, to name a few. I suspect we all share a common job description.We are a part of the service-to-mankind healing trade. Like those in teaching and law, we are members of the learned professions and of course deserve our distinct recognitions earned through years of hard work and rigorous education. But for the purposes of this blog, I am going to simplify matters by referring to the readers as a collective healer, since this is the principal group for whom I have written. Similarly,I will refer to the work that we do as medicine, although the subject matter really applies to the wealth of interdisciplinary occupations known as the healing professions. If this subject matter is of interest to you, you will enjoy future blog entries. Till then.