Clinical decision making is a challenging task that requires practical wisdom—the practised ability to help patients choose wisely among available diagnostic and treatment options. But practical wisdom is not a concept one typically hears mentioned in medical training and practice. Instead, emphasis is placed on clinical judgement. The author draws from Aristotle and Aquinas to describe the virtue of practical wisdom and compare it with clinical judgement. From this comparison, the author suggests that a more complete understanding of clinical judgement requires its explicit integration with goals of care and ethical values. Although clinicians may be justified in assuming that goals of care and ethical values are implicit in routine decision making, it remains important for training purposes to encourage habits of clinical judgement that are consciously goal-directed and ethically informed. By connecting clinical judgement to patients' goals and values, clinical decisions are more likely to stay focused on the particular interests of individual patients. To cultivate wise clinical judgement among trainees, educational efforts should aim at the integration of clinical judgement, communication with patients about goals of care, and ethical reasoning. But ultimately, training in wise clinical judgement will take years of practice in the company of experienced clinicians who are able to demonstrate practical wisdom by example. By helping trainees develop clinical judgement that incorporates patients' goals of care and ethical reasoning, we may help lessen the risk that ‘clinical judgement’ will merely express ‘the clinician's judgement.’
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Funding This work was funded by the John Templeton Foundation through the University of Chicago's Defining Wisdom project.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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