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Volume 1, Issue 2
Summer 2005:

Sounding the Heart

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Summer; 1(2):a20

Sometime ago a colleague e-mailed me the link to Joe Wright's commentary "The Healer's Art" which was broadcast on All Things Considered (15 MAY 2003).

At the time a first-year Harvard medical student, Mr. Wright concluded this piece by emphasizing the notion that "doctors need to figure out how to be important without being self-important". Rightly so: There is a hierarchy in the medical care system, and the doctor is essential. A ship needs a captain, a battalion needs a commander, and a patient needs a doctor to direct the evaluation and devise a plan for treatment.

Mr. Wright decries wearing the gold pin with the Valentine heart, a symbol of the Healer's Art. He's not interested in becoming a card-carrying member of, in his words, "the church of the doctors", stating that he does not want to replace the past problem of arrogance in the medical profession with piety.

I can empathize with his feelings. Like many practicing clinicians, I have an independent streak myself; traditionally, I too have shunned membership in the club.

My one concern for Mr. Wright, soon to become Dr. Wright, is that he not reject what he terms the "spiritual" side of medical practice out of hand. You do not have to attend any church, practice any ritual, or worship any Deity, to learn to listen empathetically, to cultivate an attitude of compassionate caring, to meet patients where they are. Such attitudes translate into better medical care, because they form the foundation of the healing process.

In my 26 years of medical practice, I've discovered that, many times, that is all we can offer our patients. These are lessons well-worth learning early on in a medical career.

In his book, "The Little Prince", Saint Exupéry imparts the following words to the fox:

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

(It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.)

You don't have to wear a gold heart-shaped pin to prove that you have learned to see from the heart.

We train future physicians to identify heart sounds with the stethoscope, to differentiate murmurs from rubs, clicks from gallop rhythms.

But we must also teach them the art of listening to those other, fainter heart sounds, the ones that aren't nearly so discernible at first, the ones that can only be heard with the heart.

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