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Healthy Skepticism Quotes

Quotations about Prescribing

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This collection of quotations was initially established by James McCormack

“who lives medically lives miserably”
- Latin proverb

“why should a remedy be certain because it is unique”
- Celsus 25 B.C. - A.D. 50

“all who drink of this remedy recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die. Therefore it is obvious that it fails only in incurable cases”
- Galen 2nd cent

“of medicine I believe all the bad or the good you like, for we have, thank God, no dealings whatever ... I despise it always, but when I am sick, instead of making peace overtures, I begin also to hate and fear it; and I reply to those who urge me to take medicine that they should wait at least until I am restored to my strength and health, so that I may have more resources to withstand the impact and the hazards of their potion”
- Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

“the greater number of simples that go unto anie compound medicine, the greater confusion is found herein, because the qualities and operations of verie few of the particulars are thoroughlie knowne”
- William Harrison 1534-1593

“we are overwhelmed as it is, wuth an infinite abundance of vaunted medicaments, and here they add another one”
- Thomas Syndenham 1624-1689

“Dr Wedderburne gave mee this Medicall Counsayle. That I should not be sicke before I was sicke, Noteing the puling spirits of some, & generally of Scholars, who doe allwayes phantsy themselves to be sicke, or sickly, & by phantsye & frequent medicines doe make themselves sick indeede.”
- John Beale writing to Robert Boyle in 1663. Quoted in The curious life of Robert Hooke by Lisa Jardine, Harper Perennial, London, 2003:215

“when a young physician he possessed twenty remedies for every disease, and at the close of his career he found twenty diseases for which he had no remedy”
- Jahn Radclifee 1650-1714

“new medicines, and new methods of cures, always work miracles for a while”
- William Heberden 1710-1801

“it is an art of no little importance to administer medicines properly: but, it is an art of much greater and more difficult acquisition to know when to suspend or altogether to omit them”
- Philippe Pinel 1745-1826

“if you are too fond of new remedies first you will not cure your patients, secondly, you will have no patients to cure”
- Astley Paston Cooper 1768-1841

“take a dose of medicine once, and in all probability you will be obliged to take an additional hundred afterwards”
- Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821

“poisons and medicine are oftentimes the same substance given with different intents”
- Peter Latham 1789-1875

“you cannot be sure of the success of your remedy, while you are still uncertain of the nature of the disease”
- Peter Latham 1789-1875 (In a lecture on diseases of the heart)

“the best practitioners give to their patients the least medicine”
- Frederick Saunders 1807-1902

“no families take so little medicine as those of doctors, except those of apothecaries”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809-1894

“a desire to take medicine is, perhaps the great feature which distinguishes man from other animals”
- William Osler 1849-1919

“In the fight which we have to wage incessantly against ignorance and quackery among the masses and follies of all sorts among the classes, diagnosis, not drugging, is our chief weapon of offence. Lack of systematic personal training in the methods of the recognition of disease leads to the misapplication of remedies, to long courses of treatment when treatment is useless, and so directly to that lack of confidence in our methods which is apt to place us in the eyes of the public on a level with empirics and quacks.”

- William Osler (address given at the closing exercises of the Army Medical School, Washington DC; 28 February 1894), in The Medical News, (24 March 1894). The Army Surgeon

“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. Often the best part of your work will have nothing to do with potions and powders, but with the exercise of an influence of the strong upon the weak, of the righteous upon the wicked, of the wise upon the foolish.”

- William Osler, The Three Great Lessons of Life

“The young physician starts life with 20 drugs for each disease, and the old physician ends life with one drug for 20 diseases.”

- William Osler

“one of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine”
- William Osler 1849-1919

“I believe that we not only feed the public demand for useless and harmful drugs, but also go far to create that very demand. We educate our patients and their friends to believe that every or almost every symptom and disease can be benefited by a drug”
- Richard Cabot 1869-1939 (In JAMA 1906)

“half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window, except that the birds might eat them”
- Martin Fischer 1879-1962

“it usually requires a considerable time to determine with certainty the virtues of a new method of treatment and usually still longer to ascertain the harmful effects”
- Alfred Blalock 1899-1964

On doctors at the time of Louis XIV and today: “The fashionable doctors…stood as they do now, in admiration of their own science. As now, they talked as if illness and death were mastered. Moliere has presented that sort of doctor once and for all; a consultation of bigwigs is ever a scene from one of his plays. The learned, magic, meaningless words, the grave looks at each other, the artful hesitation between one formula and another—all are there. In those days, terrifying in black robes and bonnets they bled the patient; now, terrifying in white robes and masks, they pump blood into him. The result is the same; the strong live; the weak, after much suffering and expense, both of money and spirit, die.”
- Nancy Mitford 1904-1973 (contributed by Christine Meyers)

“some drugs have been inappropriately called “wonder drugs” inasmuch as one wonders what they will do next”
- Samuel Stumpf 1918-


“Better a tried remedy than a new fangled one.”
- Ambroise Paré

“It takes a surgeon 1 year to learn how to take out an appendix and 10 years to learn when not to.”
- Annon (contributed by Peter Davoren)


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