The Artists of Healthcare

The Artists of Healthcare | National Nurses Week

There is a somewhat trite saying that medicine is both an art and a science.  Beyond the verbiage, what does that mean?  As a physician, I have thought about this statement for some time and have come to my own perception of what the art and science of medicine means. 

The Science of Medicine

The science of medicine involves taking actions based on information learned from the observation of measurable facts. The science of medicine implies an unemotional assessment of these facts and defined actions or treatment based on research that demonstrates good “outcomes” historically. 

“Outcomes” are determined by some measure of patients’ data parameters, determined to be desirable goals from the perspective of the physician. The science of medicine is objective, unemotional, evidence-based and requires reproducible, tangible metrics.  Physicians have traditionally been well trained and focused on the science of medicine.

The Art of Medicine

The art of medicine is less constrained by hard facts.  Outcomes are not defined, based on reproducible measures of patient data parameters as pre-determined by the physician.  Similar to other forms of art, the real outcome or value is determined by the observer, or in this, case the patient.  For physicians who consider themselves scientists, this lack of constraints or objectivity presents a challenge. That’s not to say that physicians don’t practice the art of medicine; it’s just that science has been the focus.

The Artist of Medicine

Nurses have been trained in a different culture that is focused on nurturing, empathy and emotional support that goes well beyond the mechanics of the application of treatment to understand the holistic needs of the patient. The nurse is the artist of medicine. Nurses are trained in scientific facts, much as an artist is trained in the understanding of pigments, light and media.  Similar to artists, however, the focus is on the less-tangible outcomes that produce value for the patient. 

As I approach the end of my medical career, and find myself joining the ranks of other patients, the value of the art of medicine has become more important to me.  I begin to care less about my objective measures, and more about what I feel, and my ability to do the things that are important to me.  The fact that my objective measures look the way science has determined they should look is not important, if I am emotionally troubled by illness and lack the ability to live my life the way I want. If I have a back surgery, I am less concerned that my x-rays show a “solid fusion” as compared to how I feel and what I am able to do.

As some in nursing try to focus more on the science of medicine, I would hope that the value of the art does not take a back seat. For this “Year of the Nurse,” it’s time to honor the real artists of medicine for the less tangible but critically important value they bring to all of us patients.
Celebrate National Nurses Week with HIMSS and attend the two complimentary webinars.

Blog posts in the HIMSS National Nurses Week series

The Role of Nursing and Nursing Informatics in Population Health
Setting a Solid Foundation for Any Nursing Informatics Role

National Nurses Week