How Does a Good Doctor Get That Good?

A patient recently referred to me as the “Doctor’s doctor.” I was honored. And it led me to think: What makes a doctor really good at doctoring?

Look it Up

If you look up the term “Doctor’s doctor,” you might not find a formal definition for it. Among physicians and groups that rate doctors, it usually means a doctor to whom you would go yourself, or to whom you would gladly send friends and relatives. Either way, it’s an honor. It’s also more than being an “expert” at what you do. Given that the art of medicine is as important as the science, it means that the best physician should also be a caring human being. What a concept in modern medicine! But is it true?

Ask The Greats

In the absence of an outright definition, let’s look back over the last millennium or so and see what some great people in history thought about great physicians:

The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease. Sir William Osler

The ideal doctor would be a man endowed with profound knowledge of life and the soul, intuitively divining any suffering or disorder…and restoring peace by his mere presence. Henri-Frederic Amiel

The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered. W. J. Mayo

Observe, record, tabulate, communicate. Use your five senses. Learn to see, learn to hear, learn to feel, learn to smell, and know that by practice alone you can become expert. Sir William Osler

Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity. Hippocrates

Don’t give up. I believe in you all. A person’s a person, no matter how small. Dr. Seuss

The great secret of doctors…is that most things get better by themselves. Lewis Thomas

There are, in truth, no specialties in medicine, since to know fully many of the most important diseases a man must be familiar with their manifestations in many organs Sir William Osler

The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition. Thomas Edison

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Hippocrates

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book. Irish Proverb

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

The ideal of medicine is to eliminate the physician. W. J. Mayo

The best doctor gives the least medicines. Benjamin Franklin

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better, it’s not. Dr. Seuss

From what I can tell, great medicine is something that is experienced rather than read about, and felt rather than taught. I am truly humbled by this compliment.