When We Cannot Cure: Thoughts on the Ultimate Challenge to the Bond of Patient and Doctor

The physicians of the Hippocratic era called medicine “The Art.”  They knew that the care of their fellows was an act of creativity. They also recognized that each patient and his or her physician form a bond that is unique unto itself.  That bond is the foundation upon which healing takes place. The bond’s formation and maintenance is the fundamental aspect of  “The Art,” no less a creative act than is healing itself.   It goes beyond the notion of mere empathy and sometimes comes very near to being a form of love.”  (Sherwin Nuland in Parenthood Lost)

In the 21st Century, despite the exponential availability of new technologies, there exists a paradox that such technologies succeed only for some. We as physicians have been granted by oath and by ethic the privilege to examine and treat, to counsel and advise our fellow human beings while using these technologies, but we must recognize and heal those ‘unspeakable’ losses evident when medicine and technology can longer treat and the physician can longer cure. This presentation and discussion will explore the challenges that we in the health professions encounter daily and suggestions on how a patient-centric, humanistic approach to the care of all patients can promote healing when we cannot cure.