10 Osler-isms to Remember in Your Daily Practice

November 25, 2014

William Osler’s life and work remains so instructive. Here at Stanford we invoke his name often, and have something we call an “Osler Evening” to honor him; these are evenings where we interview a faculty member on stage, getting to know a bit about their life, the journey they made to get where they are.


Here are some random quotes from Osler, ten for the day:

1. “Throw away all ambition beyond that of doing the day’s work well. The travelers on the road to success live in the present, heedless of taking thought for the morrow. Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your wildest ambition.” 

Given the current popularity of “staying in the moment” and meditation, Osler was way ahead of his time.

2. “Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom. Let not your conceptions of disease come from the words heard in the lecture room or read from the book. See and then reason and compare and control. But see first.” 

There is a danger that our learning is becoming more and more didactic, almost pre-Flexnerian! Osler’s advice holds true. Or as Andrew Elder, our visiting professor likes to say, the bedside is where the patient is!

3. “A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” 

4. “The young doctor should look about early for an avocation, a pastime, that will take him away from patients, pills, and potions”. 

Take time to smell the roses, if you will.

5. “Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognize in your humdrum routine, as perhaps it may be thought, the true poetry of life—the poetry of the commonplace, of the plain, toil-worn woman, with their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs.” 

More about mindfulness.

6. “I desire no other epitaph…than the statement that I taught medical students in the wards, as I regard this as by far the most useful and important work that I have been called upon to do.” 

7. “One finger in throat and one in the rectum makes a good diagnostician.” 

Or as some of our surgical professors were fond of saying, “If you don’t put your finger in you will put your foot in.”

8. “It is astonishing with how little reading a doctor can practice medicine, but it is not astonishing how badly he may do it.” 

Indeed, read. Medicine is a forever changing art.

9. “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.”

10. “To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.” 

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