Sir William Osler quotes or Oslerisms

Osler quotes or Oslerisms

Sir William Osler (1849 – 1919), British (Canadian-born) physician and mentor to the team at LITFL is renowned for his pithy, memorable and defining quotations. We reproduce some of these thoughts for you on this page.

“It has been said that ‘in patience ye shall win your souls,’ and what is this patience but an equanimity which enables you to rise superior to the trials of life?”
– William Osler, from Aequanimitas, in Aequanimitas.

“The young doctor should look about early for an avocation, a pastime, that will take him away from patients, pills, and potions…”
– William Osler, from The Medical Library in Post-graduate Work, BMJ 1909;2:925-8.

“While medicine is to be your vocation, or calling, see to it that you have also an avocation – some intellectual pastime which may serve to keep you in touch with the world of art, of science, or of letters.”
– William Osler, from After Twenty-Five Years, in Aequanimitas.

“But whatever you do, take neither yourselves nor your fellow-creatures too seriously. There is tragedy enough in our daily routine, but there is room too for a keen sense of the absurdities and incongruities of life, and in the shifting panorama no one sees better than the doctor the perennial sameness of men’s ways.”
– Sir William Osler, from The Reserves of Life. ST. MARY’S HOSP GAZ 1907;13:95-8.

“One special advantage of the skeptical attitude of mind is that a man is never vexed to find that after all he has been in the wrong.”
– Sir William Osler, from The Treatment of Disease Can Lancet 1909;42:899-912.

“Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognize in your humdrum routine, as perhaps it may be thought, the true poetry of life – the poetry of the commonplace, of the plain, toil-worn woman, with their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs.”
– William Osler, from The Student Life, in Aequanimitas.

“It helps a man immensely to be a bit of a hero-worshipper, and the stories of the lives of the masters of medicine do much to stimulate our ambition and rouse our sympathies”
– Sir William Osler, from Chauvanism in Medicine, in Aequanimitas.

“I desire no other epitaph… than the statement that I taught medical students in the wards, as I regard this as by far the most useful and important work I have been called upon to do.”
– Sir William Osler, from The Fixed Period, in Aequanimitas.

“No dreams, no visions, no delicious fantasies, no castles in the air, with which, as the old song so truly says, hearts are broken, heads are turned.”

“One finger in the throat and one in the rectum makes a good diagnostician.”

“By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy – indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction”

“Taking a lady’s hand gives her confidence in her physician.”

“The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism”

“Now the way of life that I preach is a habit to be acquired gradually by long and steady repetition. It is the practice of living for the day only, and for the day’s work.”

“Avoid wine and women — choose a freckly-faced girl for a wife; they are invariably more amiable.”

“It cannot be too often or too forcibly brought home to us that the hope of the profession is with the men who do its daily work in general practice.”

“To die daily, after the manner of St. Paul, ensures the resurrection of a new man, who makes each day the epitome of life.”

“To have a group of cloistered clinicians away completely from the broad current of professional life would be bad for teacher and worse for student. The primary work of a professor of medicine in a medical school is in the wards, teaching his pupils how to deal with patients and their diseases.”

“No human being is constituted to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and even the best of men must be content with fragments, with partial glimpses, never the full fruition”

“Without egotism and full of feeling, laughter is the music of life.”

“Shut out all of your past except that which will help you weather your tomorrows.”

“To know what has to be done, then do it, comprises the whole philosophy of practical life.”

“There are only two sorts of doctors: those who practice with their brains, and those who practice with their tongues.”

“The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next, and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow.”

“The natural man has only two primal passions, to get and to beget.”

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

“The future is today.”

“The first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.”

“The desire to take medicine is perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes man from animals.”

“The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well.”

“Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants.”

“The desire to take medicine is perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes man from animals.
– Sir William Osler, In H. Cushing, Life of Sir William Osler”

“Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition.”

“The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.”

“The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it.”

“What is the student but a lover courting a fickle mistress who ever eludes his grasp?”

“We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it.”

“Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease.”

“To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.”

“There is no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation, and for some men it is quite as difficult to record an observation in brief and plain language.”

“There is no disease more conducive to clinical humility than aneurysm of the aorta.”

“There are, in truth, no specialties in medicine, since to know fully many of the most important diseases a man must be familiar with their manifestations in many organs.”

“The young physician starts life with 20 drugs for each disease, and the old physician ends life with one drug for 20 diseases.”

“Observe, record, tabulate, communicate. Use your five senses. Learn to see, learn to hear, learn to feel, learn to smell, and know that by practice alone you can become expert.”

“No human being is constituted to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and even the best of men must be content with fragments, with partial glimpses, never the full fruition.”

“No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.”

“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”

“Look wise, say nothing, and grunt. Speech was given to conceal thought.”

“It is much simpler to buy books than to read them and easier to read them than to absorb their contents.”

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.”

“In seeking absolute truth we aim at the unattainable and must be content with broken portions.”

“He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”

“There is a form of laughter that springs from the heart, heard every day in the merry voice of childhood, the expression of a laughter — loving spirit that defies analysis by the philosopher, which has nothing rigid or mechanical in it, and totally without social significance. Bubbling spontaneously from the heart of child or man. Without egotism and full of feeling, laughter is the music of life.”

“Work is the open sesame of every portal, the great equalizer in the world, the true philosopher’s stone which transmutes all the base metal of humanity into gold.”

“Half of us are blind, few of us feel, and we are all deaf.”

“Too many men slip early out of the habit of studious reading, and yet that is essential.”

“A library represents the mind of its collector, his fancies and foibles, his strength and weakness, his prejudices and preferences. Particularly is this the case if, to the character of a collector, he adds — or tries to add — the qualities of a student who wishes to know the books and the lives of the men who wrote them. The friendships of his life, the phases of his growth, the vagaries of his mind, all are represented.”

“Varicose veins are the result of an improper selection of grandparents.”

“To confess ignorance is often wiser than to beat about the bush with a hypothetical diagnosis.”

“Advice is sought to confirm a position already taken.”

“Start at once a bedside library and spend the last half hour of the day in communion with the saints of humanity.”

“Study until 25, investigate until 40, profession until 60, at which age I would have him retired on a double allowance.”

“The higher the standard of education in a profession, the less marked will be the charlatanism.”

“The Scots are the backbone of Canada. They are all right in their three vital parts — head, heart and haggis.”

“The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head. Often the best part of your work will have nothing to do with potions and powders, but with the exercise of an influence of the strong upon the weak, of the righteous upon the wicked, of the wise upon the foolish.”

“The librarian of today, and it will be true still more of the librarians of tomorrow, are not fiery dragons interposed between the people and the books. They are useful public servants, who manage libraries in the interest of the public . . . Many still think that a great reader, or a writer of books, will make an excellent librarian. This is pure fallacy.”

“It is strange how the memory of a man may float to posterity on what he would have himself regarded as the most trifling of his works.”

“To it, more than to anything else, I owe whatever success I have had — to this power of settling down to the day’s work and trying to do it to the best of one’s ability, and letting the future take care of itself.”

“There are no straight backs, no symmetrical faces, many wry noses, and no even legs. We are a crooked and perverse generation.”

“For the general practitioner a well-used library is one of the few correctives of the premature senility which is so apt to take him.”

“It is not the delicate neurotic person who is prone to angina, but the robust, the vigorous in mind and body, the keen and ambitious man, the indicator of whose engines is always at full speed ahead.”

“Nothing in life is more wonderful than faith – the one great moving force which we can neither weigh in the balance nor test in the crucible”

“No dreams, no visions, no delicious fantasies, no castles in the air, with which, as the old song so truly says, hearts are broken, heads are turned”

“Throw away all ambition beyond that of doing the day’s work well. The travelers on the road to success live in the present, heedless of taking thought for the morrow. Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your wildest ambition.”

“Perhaps no sin so easily besets us as a sense of self-satisfied superiority to others.”

“There is a form of laughter that springs from the heart, heard every day in the merry voice of childhood, the expression of a laughter — loving spirit that defies analysis by the philosopher, which has nothing rigid or mechanical in it, and totally without social significance. Bubbling spontaneously from the heart of child or man.”

“Shut out all of your past except that which will help you weather your tomorrows.”

“We are constantly misled by the ease with which our minds fall into the ruts of one or two experiences”

“Care more for the individual patient than for the special features of the disease. . . . Put yourself in his place . . . The kindly word, the cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look — these the patient understands.”

“The successful teacher is no longer on a height, pumping knowledge at high pressure into passive receptacles.”

“Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom. Let not your conceptions of disease come from words heard in the lecture room or read from the book. See, and then reason and compare and control. But see first.”

“The search for static security – in the law and elsewhere – is misguided. The fact is security can only be achieved through constant change, adapting old ideas that have outlived their usefulness to current facts.”

“Courage and cheerfulness will not only carry you over the rough places in life, but will enable you to bring comfort and help to the weak-hearted and will console you in the sad hours”

“In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.”

“Take the sum of human achievement in action, in science, in art, in literature — subtract the work of the men above forty, and while we should miss great treasurers, even priceless treasures, we would practically be where we are today. . . . The effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of twenty-five and forty.”

“A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

“The higher education so much needed today is not given in the school, is not to be bought in the market place, but it has to be wrought out in each one of us for himself; it is the silent influence of character on character.”

“Things cannot always go your way. Learn to accept in silence the minor aggravations, cultivate the gift of taciturnity and consume your own smoke with an extra draught of hard work, so that those about you may not be annoyed with the dust and soot of your complaint.”

“Save the fleeting minute; learn gracefully to dodge the bore.”

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Comments

  1. Dhastagir Sheriff says

    In a world of hightech medicine, human touch and human concern are the most important qualities we need to look for. Surgeon with his knife need to understand beneath his incisions a human life lurks waiting to be saved. The clinical skills when tempered with humanities make a surgeon a great soul for his nobility in his profession and humanity in his outlook.
    Little acts of kindness
    Nothing do they cost
    yet when they are wanting
    life’s best charm is lost.
    The little gestures of a tap on the shoulder, a smile on the face , a kind look on the face, a caressing touch of the patient and a broad shoulder to a grieving relative of a patient- these small acts will make science of medicine glow in the lamp of kindness.