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No greater opportunity, responsibility, or obligation can fall to the lot of a human being than to become a physician. In the care of the suffering, [the physician] needs technical skill, scientific knowledge, and human understanding.… Tact, sympathy, and understanding are expected of the physician, for the patient is no mere collection of symptoms, signs, disordered functions, damaged organs, and disturbed emotions. [The patient] is human, fearful, and hopeful, seeking relief, help, and reassurance.

Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 1950

The practice of medicine has changed in significant ways since the first edition of this book appeared in 1950. The advent of molecular genetics, sophisticated new imaging techniques, robotics, and advances in bioinformatics and information technology have contributed to an explosion of scientific information that has changed fundamentally the way physicians define, diagnose, treat, and attempt to prevent disease. This growth of scientific knowledge is ongoing and accelerating.

The widespread use of electronic medical records and the Internet have altered the way physicians access and exchange information as a routine part of medical practice (Fig. 1-1). As today’s physicians strive to integrate copious amounts of scientific knowledge into everyday practice, it is critically important to remember two things: first, the ultimate goal of medicine is to prevent disease and, when it occurs, to diagnose it early and provide effective treatment; and second, despite nearly 70 years of scientific advances since the first edition of this text, a trusting relationship between physician and patient still lies at the heart of successful patient care.


Woodcuts from Johannes de Ketham’s Fasciculus Medicinae, the first illustrated medical text ever printed, show methods of information access and exchange in medical practice during the early Renaissance. Initially published in 1491 for use by medical students and practitioners, Fasciculus Medicinae appeared in six editions over the next 25 years. Left: Petrus de Montagnana, a well-known physician and teacher at the University of Padua and author of an anthology of instructive case studies, consults medical texts dating from antiquity up to the early Renaissance. Right: A patient with plague is attended by a physician and his attendants. (Courtesy, U.S. National Library of Medicine.)


Deductive reasoning and applied technology form the foundation for the solution to many clinical problems. Spectacular advances in biochemistry, cell biology, and genomics, coupled with newly developed imaging techniques, allow access to the innermost parts of the cell and provide a window into the most remote recesses of the body. Revelations about the nature of genes and single cells have opened a portal for formulating a new molecular basis for the physiology of systems. Increasingly, physicians are learning how subtle ...

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