In my background research for a book chapter I'm contributing to, I came across Dr. Salvatore Mangione's editorial, The stethoscope as a metaphor. He argues that "the link between humanities and the bedside remains crucial."
The stethoscope is too closely bound with the doctor’s image not to be a metaphor for something larger. To me, it’s a metaphor for medicine as both an art and a science, wherein the humanities are—and of right ought to be—a fundamental part of the education. Hence, if we want to rekindle the bedside, we must rekindle the humanities. After all, this is what both Lewis Thomas and Sherwin Nuland have urged us to do. My hunch is that this would need to be done sooner rather than later, because if it is possible to make a scientist out of a humanist (it was done for centuries), it might be considerably harder to make a humanist out of a scientist. The experience of the past few decades seems to support this conclusion.
The alternative is a future full of tricorders and technicians, but sorely lacking in healers.
Stethoscopes are crucial to my practice. I remember my Littman II (med school to residency) and my lost Littman III (residency to fellowship). I celebrate my new Littman III, which arrived in August.
But I can say the same thing about books and stories; they make me a better doctor.