Tales from the Practice of Medicine: (Part IV) Doctor's Virtue

Dr. Li Defu

PureInsight | January 13, 2003

[PureInsight.org] A Chinese medical doctor should cultivate his virtue, respect professional ethics, whole-heartedly serve his patients and follow a strict code of personal conduct. As one who is responsible for the wellbeing of his patients, he must not be careless or treat his patients in a perfunctory manner.

A doctor of Chinese medicine should carefully feel the pulse and examine the tongue of the patient. He should find out how the patient became ill, the eating and drinking habits and the daily routine of the patient. A doctor must carefully examine all the details and not simply give some superficial diagnosis. He should not only treat the head when the head aches or just treat the foot when the foot hurts. If only the superficial symptoms are treated, and the underlying causes of the illness are neglected, the patient will develop some new ailments, with the old ones left uncured.

Understanding the personality and habits of the patient is a much more difficult thing to accomplish than curing an illness on the surface. If the doctor does not examine the patient carefully or ask questions in a wise and clever manner, he cannot arrive at a correct diagnosis. Sometimes he might even fail to find the actual cause of the illness and therefore won't be able to pursue any curative treatment for the patient.

Many generations of great doctors believed that to practice medicine is to practice compassion. A doctor should take all possible steps to help the patient. He should make full use of his wisdom and do everything he can. Sun Simiao, a famous doctor in ancient China, advocated that a doctor should treat patients of all social strata equally, without respect to wealth or social status. He said, "When a great doctor treats diseases, his spirit must be peaceful and his mind must be determined. Without desire and pursuit, he puts compassion first and avows to save ordinary man from suffering." A great doctor will not treat patients differently based on personal relationships, social status or wealth. He should get rid of all his self-serving intentions and treat all of his patients the same way that he treats his relatives and good friends, regardless of their ages, appearances, intelligence, nationalities or personalities.

A doctor must put aside personal feelings when treating patients. He should not refuse to treat even his enemies. Dr. Zhu Zhenheng of the Yuan Dynasty often made house calls to patients who were poor and took special care of those elderly patients who were not only poor but also had no children to care for them. On the other hand, when he encountered patients who were powerful and wealthy but were also arrogant and rude, he never went out of his way to please them. Once an influential official came down with a minor ailment and asked Dr. Zhu Zhenheng to treat him. When he arrived, he found the bigwig sitting arrogantly in the middle of the hall with his guards standing on either side of him. Doctor Zhu felt the powerful person's pulse and left without speaking a word. The official ordered a servant to chase after Dr. Zhu and ask him why he left without saying anything. Dr. Zhu replied, "If he knew he was going to die in three months, would he then be so arrogant?"

Speed is important in treating illness. Once someone asks for help, a doctor must immediately treat him. Sun Simiao advocated that a doctor should "always go to save his patients regardless of whether the journey was a difficult one to make, whether it was day or night, or whether the doctor was hungry or thirsty." He truly lived by his own words and always responded immediately to those asking for his help. Zhu Zhenheng never turned down a single patient, regardless of how far he had to travel or how bad the weather was. He said, "When a patient is suffering, a minute feels like a year. He is in so much pain already. How can I forsake him for the sake of my own comfort? A doctor should not ask for anything in return from his patients. If a patient were too poor to pay me, I would give him medicine for free without his having to ask me to waive the fee."

When doctors in ancient times wanted to find someone to whom to pass down their skills, they would carefully choose people who were honest and focused on helping others. Famous doctors of ancient China might not pass down their knowledge to even their own children. Wan Quan, a famous a pediatrician in the Ming Dynasty, had ten sons. None of them was allowed to inherit the knowledge of their father and become a doctor. Ye Tianshi, a famous Qing Dynasty doctor, said to his sons before he died, "Being a doctor is something a person may or may not be able to do. A person who wants to pursue a medical career must be very gifted and diligent. He should read a lot before he can heal others. Otherwise it is hard to avoid killing people accidentally. The only difference between that and murder is in the weapon of choice. I am about to die. After I am dead, you and your children should think carefully before you decide to become doctors yourselves." (From History of Qing • Biography of Ye Gui) We should think carefully about his words.

(To be continued)

Translated on December 25, 2002 from http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2002/12/18/19665.html

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