In the fall of 1970 Philip Tumulty, a Johns Hopkins’ internist, gave a lecture to the 3rd year medical school class at Johns Hopkins. His lecture was published in the same year in the New England Journal of Medicine under the title of “What is a clinician, and what does he do?” (Tumulty PA. What is a clinician and what does he do? N Engl J Med. 1970 Jul 2;283(1):20-4.) In this classic piece, this eminent physician of his era claimed that the primary role of the clinician is to “manage a sick person with the purpose of alleviating the total effect of his illness”.
This paper, probably better than any other paper I have ever read gets to the essence of what a patient needs from an expert clinical caregiver; it lays out eloquently and robustly the characteristics of a good clinician and what is involved in excellent clinical care of patients. As Tumulty says, it is not a diseased body organ that shows up for physical diagnosis and treatment; rather, it is an anxious, fearful, wondering person concerned about her personal life, including her family, work, friends as well as her hopes and dreams. This means the clinician must be a thoughtful and systematic fact finder, a careful listener, a keen analyst of the facts and a prudent planner regarding which tests and treatment options make the most sense for this particular patient. Moreover, Tumulty rightly assumes that these skills should be embodied in the clinician as natural traits that the clinician genuinely enjoys performing.
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