character

Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connection. Knowledge dwells
In heads replete with thoughts of other men,
Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.
Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much,
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.

– William Cowper, English poet (1731-1800)

one of my lecturers quoted the last two lines of the poem above on the last day of our rotation. he had spent the most part of the 5 weeks with us teaching us not just the art of practicing medicine, but the art of living life. when he said it, i almost cried. i had enjoyed the posting immensely because he was a teacher in more ways than one and his approach to medicine, to all things in general, was so inspiring. he wanted us to be better people and not simply better medical students or doctors.

i don’t know how medicine is taught in other universities, but i am thankful for the teachers i’ve encountered throughout my 5 years of medical education. yes, it is clinical acumen that differentiates a doctor from a layperson, but they have also taught me that humility is a large part of medicine. knowledge can be obtained from books and papers, but wisdom is gained from only from humility. it is a matter of character and independent of your ability to memorize facts and protocols.

dr. edward livingston trudeau contributed this famous quote to medical literature: “to cure, sometimes. to relieve, often. to comfort, always.” another one of my lecturers, also one who is known for reminding us to be people and not robots dishing out medicine, quoted this in my first or second year of medical school. again, the focus is on character – on compassion and empathy.

i hope i will not be judged purely on my book knowledge during my exams in august. i am not the smartest or the most hardworking – i think i’m rather dumb and lazy, really – but when i realised that my patient was upset and was going to turn on the waterworks in a minute, when she burst into tears the moment i handed her some tissue, when she managed a weak smile when i went back to check on her after rounds…it was one of the times when i thought: this is what doctors are meant to do. this is what i will do in the midst of taking blood for investigations, writing reports, performing painful but necessary procedures.

knowledge and wisdom are far from being one. as poor a multitasker i may be, i will have to pursue both in my career. but if i have really learned anything in my 5 years as a student, it might actually be better to strive a just little more for the latter.

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2 responses to “character

  1. hey happy birthday! wanted to be different from the long pages on facebook of the same old. so have a great one and enjoy the month of footy fever! enjoy on my behalf/for my sake. am too busy to watch them all.

  2. thanks rachel! i’m too busy too…but will try and catch the major ones. thank goodness for the abundance of people to watch with. miss you lots. please come back for hols!

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