Whither our art? Clinical wisdom and evidence-based medicine

Med Health Care Philos. 2002;5(3):273-80. doi: 10.1023/a:1021116516342.


The relationship between evidence-based medicine (EBM) and clinical judgement is the subject of conceptual and practical dispute. For example, EBM and clinical guidelines are seen to increasingly dominate medical decision-making at the expense of other, human elements, and to threaten the art of medicine. Clinical wisdom always remains open to question. We want to know why particular beliefs are held, and the epistemological status of claims based in wisdom or experience. The paper critically appraises a number of claims and distinctions, and attempts to clarify the connections between EBM, clinical experience and judgement, and the objective and evaluative categories of medicine. I conclude that to demystify clinical wisdom is not to devalue it. EBM ought not be conceived as needing to be limited or balanced by clinical wisdom, since if its language is translatable into terms comprehensible and applicable to individuals, it helps constitute clinical wisdom. Failure to appreciate this constitutive relation will help perpetuate medical paternalism and delay the adoption of properly evidence-based practice, which would be both unethical and unwise.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Clinical Competence
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Professional Autonomy