Early on in my medical career, I read the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) for the excellent comprehensive review articles called “Medical Progress.” I believe the topics are chosen by the editors and they invite “experts” to write the reviews. The senior author is usually a well-known name in the field and the junior author (the person who does all the work to write the review) may be a junior faculty member who is climbing the academic ladder. I read and learned medicine.
As I matured as a practitioner and a teacher of medicine, I became more interested in the articles on original research when the topics were pertinent to my specialty. The rigorous scientific aspects with well-planned study design and data collection were read in detail. The analyses of data and the conclusions were scrutinized even closer. I marveled at and envied the authors for their ability to answer scientific questions through well-designed research and studies. I applied newly found knowledge to my practice of medicine.
Then I aged more and began to appreciate the art of medicine over the science of medicine. The letters-to-the-editor in the NEJM became more interesting when they told stories and related the experiences of doctors. Journal of the American Medical Association’s “A Piece of My Mind” and the Annals of Internal Medicine’s “On Being a Patient,” “Ad Libitum,” and “On Being a Doctor” became regular reading for me. Photos, poems, and stories create images in my mind that linger and allow reflection and enjoyment as they represent some aspects of my own life, personal and professional. They bring emotions such as joy, sadness, grief, elation, anger: all kinds of feelings that review articles and original research articles do not. I enjoyed and learned from my patients.
Mostly, the feelings that these images evoke are pleasant ones, like joy, admiration, and happiness, but melancholy, emptiness, and hopelessness are there as well to balance the full range of emotions that we are all capable of feeling. As physicians, we just need to open ourselves to let these feelings enter us, because we are humans as well.