To Do No Harm

Though we enter the profession of medicine to do good – to help others, our first rule is to do no harm. Primum non nocere.

At first this may seem odd, but when you consider that we are entrusted with a person’s confidences, health and life, we recognize that we may cause inadvertent harm in our zeal to do good.

Virtually every intervention has the potential to harm. Antibiotics intended to treat an  infection may cause side effects such as diarrhea, bloating and yeast infections or more serious allergic reactions.

We may admit a patient to the hospital to treat a fractured hip, but her course may be complicated by nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, including C. difficile diarrhea, MRSA, urinary tract infections or hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Doctors become expert at considering and disclosing the common as well as the most serious side effects or risks of every procedure, investigation and medication they may offer a patient. A capable patient needs to know these risks in order to give informed consent.

Outside of medicine, each of us has potential to do great good as well as great harm. That is the responsibility of our everyday lives.  Parents, teachers and others who are responsible for dependent children are charged with their physical and emotional well-being. Though we can do great good, we can also cause harm.

Consider the power of your own words to heal or to harm.

If you consider your everyday responsibility and take up the first rule of medicine (primum non nocere) as you rise to meet your world each day, what will you do differently?

Would you choose your words more carefully, recognizing the impact they may have on others? Would you be less reactive and automatic in your actions and consider their potential effect on the well-being of others?

About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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