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It is entirely beyond the scope of the present work to deal in any way with ethics in the abstract. What the writer desires, however, is to show the application of ethical rules to the everyday work of the practitioner, and to indicate how best his work may be carried on, not only for himself, but on behalf of his patients and others.
To this end a few words may be said regarding some of the attributes which go to form a man's character, and on the possession and cultivation of which, the success of his professional life will very largely depend.
Conduct.-Matthew Arnold said that “conduct was three-fourths of our life and its largest concern." It really means the way in which a person acts or lives, and in ethics it signifies the voluntary direction of one's will to proper ends, especially as regards morals and religion. To the medical practitioner it is of the utmost importance that he should so frame his line of life that it may be entirely above suspicion ; that all may see the transparency of his motives, and that his chief aim in life is the good of his patients. He must see to it that he renders his due to each sufferer. This moral obligation or line of conduct which one is bound to follow is known as one's duty (or in ethics, oughtness), and is surely one of the highest principles which should underlie a man's relations to himself, to his fellows, and to his God.
Duty.-"Stern daughter of the voice of God," duty is the guiding principle which shows itself in the acts and conduct of the individual. Whatever, therefore, your conscience calls upon you to do, that do; it is your duty. This moral obligation often runs directly counter to what expediency or self-advancement might urge ; but if you are to be happy in your own mind, then the former must be obeyed, even though it entails loss and suffering. “Do the duty that liest nearest thee which thou knowest to be a duty; the second duty will already become clearer."
The duty of the ordinary practitioner seldom calls for high effort. It usually lies in performing “ the trivial round, the common task.” The very monotony of this may incline him to neglect his work, and make him strive for what he imagines to be loftier objects. In the vast majority of cases, however, it is just in his practice where the doctor's duty lies, and if he carries this through wisely and conscientiously, he has the reward of conscience in that he has obeyed its call. It behoves you, therefore, to keep a clean and active conscience," the oracle of God," so that, acting under its guidance, you will have the supreme satisfaction of knowing that you have done your duty. Seneca tells us that a peaceful conscience, honest thoughts, virtuous actions, and indifference to casual events, are blessings without end or measure.
It is well that the young practitioner should so commence to live his life that he will build for himself no House of Regrets in which to dwell in his later years. It has been said that in youth we bake the bricks, that in manhood we build the walls, and that in old age we live in such a house. It is, however, in your own control to build this edifice as small and as flimsy as possible, so that you may not have to dwell for any length of time in an abode of gloomy memories.
Character is the individuality of the person, and results from cultivation of his moral nature. Being determined by his will, it is the mark of the man, and shows itself on all and on every occasion.
It has nothing whatever to do with intellect; the genius may be a man of low character, the ploughman one of lofty character. It is a product of the heart, and not of the head. Character alone makes the moral power of the man.
Many qualities go to the formation of character. I mention but a few. Perseverance.
Because something is difficult to do is no reason why we should give up attempting it. The reverse ought rather to be our endeavour; obstacles ought to be the stimuli to success. The young man starting in practice must exercise patience as well as perseverance, he must not be cast down by an apparent non-success. In many cases the reward of steady work in the face of disheartening non-appreciation has been, later, that of a successful and lucrative practice.
A piece of research work is, perhaps, troublesome and arduous, and seems to give little prospect of any good result. By perseverance you can accomplish it, and the ultimate benefit to humanity may be great.
Apart altogether from success, there is nothing which strengthens character more than persistent effort. Let your work always meet with the approval of your conscience, and do that which lies nearest to you first, but do it in no slovenly manner. Do not neglect any work because you are waiting for “ the great opportunity.” It may never arrive.
Interest and enthusiasm in your work are, however, enormous helps. If your daily work is done as a task to be got over, and not as a pleasure, then you are doing a slave's work, and its value to yourself and to others will be equally worthless. It is evident that you have chosen the wrong line of work if you have no living interest in it, and the sooner you escape from the thraldom of such unattractive occupation the better will it be. You might devote yourself to some other of the many branches of your profession, and to one which would afford you interest; and with perseverance, desire and appreciation for the work would in all likelihood follow.
The pity of our life is that, when we are young and vigorous, professional work comes to us slowly and in insufficient amount; while we get more than we can accomplish when we are older and less able physically to undertake it.
By courage, effort and persistence you will be able to overcome many apparently insurmountable obstacles which may beset you in your work. One can hardly imagine a world in which there were no difficulties with which to contend, and if there were none, the character would be equally lacking in development. It is adversity which makes a man; success too often spoils him.
Try as early as possible in your career to map out your line of life, and having done so, let nothing deviate you from following it. If you prosecute this in a right spirit and with due regard to your fellow
men, it is almost certain that you will attain your object in time.
By not concentrating your activities on one special object you dissipate your energy and your time, and as life is short and time is fleeting, when at last you wake up to the fact that you ought to be doing what you set out to do, you may find that the opportunity is gone and that every one (except yourself) is of opinion that you are too old. “It is too late to be ambitious . time may be too short for our designs.'
Indecision of character is a grave fault, and if you have it even in a minor degree, do all in your power to uproot it. It may show itself in various ways: indecision in speaking, acting or even in the giving of advice. The practitioner who succeeds best is he who is decided in his opinions, who gives his directions clearly and definitely, so that there is no mistaking his meaning. Such a man leaves behind him the impression that he knows exactly what he is about, and that one can rely on him. Irresolution has ruined many a professional career. Nosce teipsum.
The secret of success lies in constancy of purpose, and bear in mind that it is a far nobler thing to put your best effort forth and fail than to succeed without effort.
Prudent, cautious self-control
Is wisdom's root."-Burns. To some this comes naturally, while others require to exercise it continually. There are few, however,