18 April 2012

An ambitious attempt

No greater opportunity, responsibility, or obligation can fall to the lot of a human being than to become a physician. In the care of the suffering, [the physician] needs technical skill, scientific knowledge, and human understanding.... Tact, sympathy, and understanding are expected of the physician, for the patient is no mere collection of symptoms, signs, disordered functions, damaged organs, and disturbed emotions. [The patient] is human, fearful, and hopeful, seeking relief, help, and reassurance.
So begins Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, a dense, 3,600-page two-volume tome that is the nearest thing to a bible in clinical medicine. In its 397 chapters, leading physicians comprehensively explain the diseases of the adult human body and their treatments. My internal medicine professors consult Harrison's regularly. I shall come to know this text well.

I recently saw a documentary (which I recommend) called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It profiles Jiro Ono, an 86-year-old chef in charge of what is widely considered to be the best sushi restaurant in Japan. Ono explains that he and his assistants make a point of eating the finest food, because how can a chef make excellent food unless he is surrounded by it?

Similarly, if I'm going to practice excellent medicine, I think I will need to surround myself with the finest learning materials. As I've discussed previously, I intend to do more than our curriculum demands. A classmate mentioned that a professor he admires had read Harrison's in its entirety during his training. I thought, why not me? And so, I've resolved to read the whole thing. I've dusted off five chapters in the last 24 hours, which means that only 392 remain. A spreadsheet logs my progress. I predict that I'll finish my undertaking in 12 months. I'm optimistic that it will be worth it. Knowing diseases in depth should help me make some difficult diagnoses and provide good care.