Occams’s razor is an ideal that dates back to the 14th century logician William of Ockham. It is the idea that, when solving a problem, one should make as few assumptions as possible. This rule of simplicity, if you will, is applicable even to the medical realm. It is the idea that when approaching a patient with an illness, it is more likely that he or she is ailing from a myriad of common symptoms rather than one extremely rare disease. The clinical applications of such an ideal are valid, yet if you disposed of the concept of sick or well, dying or living, virus or bacteria, Occam’s razor still applies. Without a person with the pathological reason they are unwell, a patient to some is nothing more than the bacteria plaguing them. But Occam would say that the less assumed the better. Why not, then, treat the patient as you see him or her first: a human being?

Although this concept of keeping things simple may seem commonplace to some, it may be the most challenging of tasks to others. There is no glory, after all, in solving a problem that is not difficult or complex. Sometimes in all of the learning we do, we miss the most important and simple of all lessons, which is the notion that we are no different than our patients on the inside. Therefore there is no reason they (our patients) should be treated differently on the outside.

When one thinks about this idea, it might seem a little contradictory to the entire concept of medicine. Is it not more important to heal the person’s illness than to worry about the person? Would it be better in the long run to know that a physician who is unperturbed about your fears was methodical when approaching your care? Perhaps it may seem this way to an outsider. However, we are all patients at one time or another. Even the most stoic must be faced with the concept of immortality at some point. It is a frightening moment when one’s life is in another’s hands; and that is what some doctors fail to remember when making rounds on the day to day hospital or outpatient circuit. For the man or woman lying in the bed in front of you is a person, and he or she is composed of the same parts as you.  

We have come to a place in medicine in which the most human of all vocations has been found to require an inhuman amount of composition. It is an irony that somehow we have arrived here. Subsequently, it must seem especially ludicrous to be at the receiving end of this irony. To a patient receiving a life-changing diagnosis from a tersely composed physician, the very moment must seem altogether nightmarish. It is one of the most puzzling of all scenarios in medicine, one which requires the least assumptions to remedy.

Occam’s theory can be loosely translated from the Latin, “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” to mean “things must not be multiplied more than necessary”. In other words, do not complicate the uncomplicated. Do not allow what once may have come as second nature to be lost in years of training and expertise. Even with the honing of skills we undergo, it is quite possible to retain the human touch we as people must incur to become better doctors. Seeing a patient as more than a disease, more than a bed, and more than a “teaching opportunity” is something that is so critical to the field right now, yet is something that is hard to apply. Quite simply, it can be stated as this: see the patient as you would want yourself seen. This is the most inherent and obvious approach, with the fewest assumptions. If doctors follow this path, all of the care and medical knowledge that follows will surely not be lost. They will give the patient what he or she needs most, which quite simply consists of a human being speaking to another human being. This is the heart of medicine; this in itself is the answer to the incongruities which plague the physician-patient relationship today.

We are given a task as a future doctor that is far from easy. While learning the science and practice of the field, we must not forget the true meaning and value of what we are doing. It is an incredible gift to be chosen to heal the sick; a gift that is even frightening at times. Yet we were chosen for a reason. Regardless of where this journey takes us, we will be faced with difficult trials along the way. It is imperative that even in the face of the most difficult of moments, we remember the Razor. For it is in the face of adversity that we find our strength and even the answers to the most challenging of life’s questions. Sometimes, the answers are lying right in front of us. Yet it may be a test of strength alone to choose the simplest one.

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