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Thumbnail of Sir William Osler (source)
Sir William Osler
(12 Jul 1849 - 29 Dec 1919)

Canadian physician, medical educator and author whose clinical teaching, research and personality strongly influenced medical practice, including encouraging a warmer bedside manner between doctors and their patients. He wrote Principles and Practice of Medicine (1892), one of the most successful textbooks in medical history.

William Osler
“Two sorts of doctors”

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William Osler quote Two sorts of doctors
Candidate for medical degree being examined in the subject of “Bedside Manner” — Punch (22 Apr 1914) (source)
“There are only two sorts of doctors: those who practice with their brains, and those who practice with their tongues.”
— William Osler
Address, 'Teaching and Thinking' (1894)

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When William Osler gave an address to McGill Medical School on 1 Oct 1894, entitled “Teaching and Thinking” his subtitle was “The Two Functions of a Medical School.” He praised the “remarkable increase in his physical well-being.” In particular, he recognized that

Anæsthetics and antiseptic surgery have almost manacled the demon.

Later in his talk, he said “Though used less frequently, medicines are now given with infinitely greater skill.” He then considered the qualities of doctors who avoid “nostrums and humbuggery”:

Many of the difficulties which surround the subject relate to the men who practise the art. The commonest as well as the saddest mistake is to mistake one’s profession, and this we doctors do often enough, some of us, without knowing it.

There are men who have never had the preliminary education which would enable them to grasp the fundamental truths of the science on which medicine is based.

Others have poor teachers, and never receive that bent of mind which is the all important factor in education; others again fall early into the error of thinking that they know it all, and benefiting neither by their mistakes or their successes, miss the very essence of all experience, and die bigger fools, if possible, than when they started.

There are only two sorts of doctors; those who practise with their brains, and those who practise with their tongues.

The studious, hard-working man who wishes to know his profession thoroughly, who lives in the hospitals and dispensaries, and who strives to obtain a wide and philosophical conception of disease and its processes, often has a hard struggle, and it may take years of waiting before he becomes successful; but such form the bulwarks of our ranks, and outweigh scores of the voluble Cassios who talk themselves into, and often out of, practice.

Introductory text written by Webmaster. Note that the long quote appeared as a single paragraph in the original text; paragraph breaks were added to improve readability on the webpage. The quotes come from William Osler’s address to McGill Medical School (1 Oct 1894), 'Teaching and Thinking', collected in Aequanimitas: With Other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine (1904), 131. (source)

See also:
  • Science Quotes by Sir William Osler.
  • 12 Jul - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Osler's birth.
  • Sir William Osler - Excerpt from 'Books And Men' address (12 Jan 1901)
  • William Osler - context of quote “Two sorts of doctors” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • William Osler: A Life in Medicine, by Michael Bliss. - book suggestion.

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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