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The Duties of a Doctor

When I attended my 40th reunion of my medical school class two weeks ago, I was reminded again in a most powerful and succinct way what it means to be a doctor.

Dr. Dan Foster, a world-renowned endocrinologist and teacher of medicine, gave a brief lecture about the ethics of medicine. In it he said that medical doctors have four duties. First, be competent. Second, cure disease and prevent it whenever possible. Third, treat symptoms when there is no cure. Fourth, comfort always.

We are committed to continually seeking new and better ways to cure and treat disease. The technological revolution in health care has brought the ability to see structures of the eye so clearly that we can detect disease at earlier stages than ever before. High-tech equipment like Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT) wasn’t available 20 years ago and now I cannot imagine practicing without it. The duty of comfort was paraphrased to me once as: “Doc, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And it remains true today.

It was wonderful to be brought to ponder the privileged and special relationship the physician has with his patients. I am so grateful to have the lessons learned as a medical student brought so clearly and forcefully forward into my life again.