Analogies and metaphors in clinical medicine

Clin Med (Lond). 2012 Feb;12(1):55-6. doi: 10.7861/clinmedicine.12-1-55.


Medicine is traditionally known as an 'art', and not an exact 'science'. Medical images of clinical signs and pathology were communicated through 'metaphors' in the 19th and early 20th centuries to make recognition easier in anticipation of the clinical counterpart when encountered in medical practice. They have served as teaching aids, enhancing memory retention for medical students, nurses and doctors and have withstood the test of time. Standard medical textbooks contain metaphors that have become entrenched in teaching, learning and examining in medical schools and hospitals worldwide. The continued use of metaphors has given rise to an ongoing debate, particularly in Africa, due to the usage of inappropriate or unfamiliar metaphors which are not locally or culturally relevant. Despite this, medical analogies will no doubt continue to be useful for medical education, clinical practice and 'aide memoirs' for examinations, and bring light humour, for a long time to come.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Medicine / education*
  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Metaphor*
  • Textbooks as Topic
  • Wit and Humor as Topic