What does good medicine require?: Kenan’s Arete Project Hosts National Workshop for Medical Students

From June 25th to 29th, Professors Farr Curlin (Duke) and Chris Tollefsen (University of South Carolina) led nineteen students in the first annual Arete Medical Ethics Seminar on Duke’s campus. Most of the students had already begun their medical education—at institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Dartmouth—while others were preparing to enter medical school this fall. The seminar offered the students a chance to reflect philosophically on the purpose of their intended occupation. The seminar began with the question, what is health, or, put differently, what is medicine? Is the goal of medicine to increase patient satisfaction, to reduce suffering, to respect patient autonomy, to promote health? Do these answers ever come into conflict? If so, what then does good medicine require? For all their sophisticated educational offerings, medical schools are often reluctant to address this question. How the medical profession understands “health” can and will affect how a doctor may think about hard cases like euthanasia and abortion.

In a time when burnout rates among doctors are at all-time highs (and continue to rise), it is crucial for physicians-in-training to reflect on why they do what they do, why they put up with the grind of medical school, the trial of rotations, and, for some, the endless charting required in certain subfields of medicine. The faculty and students in the seminar grappled with these hard questions in the spirit of finding truth. In evaluating the seminar, one participant wrote, “[it] came right at the perfect time in my life and has given me a clear context to view medical ethics going forward in practice as a physician, and as a citizen in greater society. It was a true privilege to be a part of the seminar.”