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To Provide Safe Passage: The Humanistic Aspects of Medicine

Stephen P. Hersh, MD
JAMA. 1986;255(12):1635. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370120113033.
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The practice of medicine continues to change rapidly. Scientific and technological advances are the basic driving forces. Glamorous, intriguing, tantalizing, with a certain reality and many fantasies of increasing control over our mortality, science and technology becloud their own advances. Increasing cohorts of individuals at all stages of the life cycle survive serious trauma and continue to exist with serious illnesses, now almost all of them chronic in nature.

Physicians appear to be responding with painful slowness to this new reality: the era of chronic disabilities. Most of us continue to focus overly on our areas of expertise. We remove symptoms, arrest destructive processes of all kinds, and consider our job complete. We neglect the reality that our social role is an ancient one, that of healer. As such, in terms of the basic needs of those who seek our care and their expectations, proper healing remains as it always


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