Aphorisms, Sayings, Epigrams, Maxims: Small Doses for Health Care Providers

Fidelindo Lim, DNP, CCRN

The year’s end often triggers the reflection dial in people lives. This is partly in part assisted by those “year in pictures” pages put out by newspapers and magazines. We look back or better still we look around and within us to make meaning or make some sense of the novel and the quotidian of life. For health care providers, it is generally accepted, but seldom explored, that we should reflect, simply because health care is tough!

One of the accessible prompts for reflection is to use well-know or obscure aphorisms to guide along the self-introspection. Aphorisms are a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct. Its various synonyms are: saying, adage, aphorism, proverb, motto, saw, axiom, dictum, precept, and epigram. For millennia, they have permanently colored health care culture and inhabit it in the same way as uncertainty (Levine and Bleakley, 2012). Florence Nightingale would probably rank as one of the top dispensers of acerbic epigrams that still resonates with current health care issues.

Here are some aphorisms that may be of special interest to nurses, randomly selected and in no particular order, for individual or collective reflection. New Year’s resolutions, anyone?

"Every nurse ought to be careful to wash her hands very frequently…. If her (his) face, too, so much the better." - Florence Nightingale

“To understand God’s thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose.”—Florence Nightingale

“One of the most widespread diseases at present is diagnosis.” - Karl Kraus

“I find the medicine worse than the malady.”John Fletcher

“We can’t reach old age by another man’s road. My habits protect my life, but they would assassinate you.”Mark Twain

“Patients sue not when the patient gets angry with the doctor, but when the doctor gets angry with the patient.”-  Thomas J. Krizek

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” —Albert Einstein

I will lift up mine eyes unto the pills. Almost everyone takes them, from the humble aspirin to the multi-colored, king-sized, three-deckers, which put you to sleep, wake you up, stimulate you, sooth you all in one. It is an age of pills!”-  Malcolm Muggeridge

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” — Albert Einstein

"Let me be sick myself if sometimes the malady of my patient be not a disease to me." — Sir Thomas Browne.

"Discuss the coming on of years, and think not to do the same things still; for age will not be
denied." — Francis Bacon.

"Medicine sometimes snatches away health, sometimes gives it."— Ovid

"People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel!" —Maya Angelou

To follow the advice of Sir Francis Bacon, “read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe or take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider” (quoted by Harold Bloom in How to Read and Why).