The Physical Examination as Ritual: Social Sciences and Embodiment in the Context of the Physical Examination

Med Clin North Am. 2018 May;102(3):425-431. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.12.004.


The privilege of examining a patient is a skill of value beyond its diagnostic utility. A thorough physical examination is an important ritual that benefits patients and physicians. The concept of embodiment helps one understand how illness and pain further define and shape the lived experiences of individuals in the context of their race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. Understanding ritual in medicine, including the placebo effects of such rituals, reaffirms the centrality of the physical examination to the process of building strong physician-patient relationships.

Keywords: Embodiment; Physical examination; Physician-patient relationship; Ritual; Social Sciences and Medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control
  • Ceremonial Behavior*
  • Culturally Competent Care / methods
  • Culturally Competent Care / standards
  • Humans
  • Physical Examination* / psychology
  • Physical Examination* / standards
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Placebo Effect
  • Social Sciences