How the Art of Medicine Makes Science More Effective

Image of How the Art of Medicine Makes the Science More Effective: Becoming the Medicine We Practice (How the Art of Medicine Makes Effective Physicians)
Release Date: 
August 21, 2015
Singing Dragon
Reviewed by: 

"a fascinating book that draws many parallels with Western medicine . . ."

Dr. Claudia Welch, who has a doctorate in Oriental Medicine and lists among her credentials membership of the National Association of Ayurvedic Medicine as well as the Author’s Guild, has written this insightful book about the interlinking of medicine and science.

Much of the book is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine, “the science of life,” as a refreshing change from the many Western books of medicine. Dr. Welch advises readers to dip in and out of the book, skipping the first section if it is felt to be too “dense.”

In contrast to many books, it uses very loose definitions of health and wellbeing: “doctors” are “anybody who is practicing healthcare, from physicians to nurses, counselors, massage therapists, psychologists, yoga therapists, to parents.” 

Dr. Welch describes the therapeutic relationship practitioners have with their patients: “In the science of medicine, we learn to dispense medicine. In art, we learn to become it.” She explores issues such as whether it is right to turn away a patient, and the importance of follow-up appointments.

In Ayurvedic terms, physicians (“vaidyas”) must possess four key qualities, “excellence in theoretical knowledge, extensive practical experience, dexterity, and purity.” Without any of these, the doctor is lost, but with these, “severe disorders vanish like the (imaginary) city of gandharvas (musical spirits).”

We are encouraged to question the “authority” of our sources of knowledge, “The wise who wishes to be a physician should, first of all, examine the treatise with reasoning . . .” not in a dogmatic way, but flexibly in keeping with the third principle of dexterity.

Authoritative texts include the classic Indian Vedas and “sister texts” from disciplines such as Daoism. Testimonies from patients are also useful. The variability of Westernised studies is discussed, with the author feeling replicability is low and dramatic results more likely to be published.

Perception, or empirical evidence, also has value, according to Dr. Welch. One example is that of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which showed very promising results in the 1970s, “the researchers stopped the trial . . . after the fourth baby in the control group died.”

Another crucial tool is feeling, or touch, “Many of us spend our whole lives from feeling in the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are is beyond the pain.” (Khalil Gibran).

The book urges us to use the senses as fully as possible, particularly touch, sight, and hearing. It describes the “nei kuan, or inner vision” of Taoism, and the cultural aspects of seeing what we are brought up to see.

The subtleties of hearing, of “reading between the lines” are also key to the therapeutic relationship. Ayurvedic medicine distinguishes between “vaikari vani,” the more superficial form of communication, and “para vani,” a much deeper, unhurried form.

A fascinating case is the example of amyloid plaques in Alzhemeir’s and multiple sclerosis. Thought initially to be pro-inflammatory and harmful, it was later found to be protective, the “smoke” rather than the “fire.” The underlying cause and principles of disease are vital to understand.

Dr. Welch moves to the need for practical knowledge, “things we may not learn in school.” Drawing on her extensive experience, she gives us titbits of advice such as not trying to “fix” things, patience, reading between the lines, collaboration, simple treatment and “the power of subtraction” of lifestyle elements. According to Voltaire, “the art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

This is a fascinating book that draws many parallels with Western medicine while enlightening us on the complexities of Eastern philosophies, particularly Ayurvedic teachings. It informs and educates us to gain a deeper understanding of health and the world around us.