Is Medicine an Art or a Science?

By Shady Shebak, MD

I recently had a conversation with a physician, and we concluded that in our time, medicine is more of a science than it is an art, at least with regards to treatment. We cannot as physicians dabble with folklore, and prescribe as we please, without proper evidence. This is the notion that has become commonplace in modern medicine, under the title ‘Evidence Based Practice’. There are many sources that we can tap into to stay updated about the best modes of treating an ailment.  This by no means rules out any creativity when practicing this science, but rather, allows for more efficient treatment and more creative outlets in practicing the “art of medicine”. Below is an unfinished list of what I would consider the scientific side to medicine and the artistic side to medicine, both of which can and should flourish side by side.

When is medicine a science?

  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Diagnosing a condition
  • Prescribing medications
  • Providing treatment options
  • Staying up to date with research findings
  • Reading journal articles (including review articles, studies, and interesting cases)
  • Having a scientific mindset
  • Being objective

When is medicine an art?

  • Physical exam
  • Explaining a diagnosis to a patient
  • Comforting/counselling a patient
  • Finding one’s own strengths in order to get a message across to a patient
  • Theorizing about mechanisms of actions of given medications, therapies, etc.. in the hopes of elaborating on the theory with research
  • Coming up with research projects
  • Being vigilant in finding novel cases worthy of sharing
  • Reading more than just medical research and pathology
  • Psychotherapy (has aspects of art and science)



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