Performing a complete physical exam on a real patient for the first time provokes anxiety in all medical students. It is like learning to swim. Despite all the courses and the reading, the student swimmer must get in the water and swim. Likewise, the young physician must construct the history and perform the physical examination on a living patient.
Physical diagnosis is the “sine qua non” for the practice of medicine. If a physician lacks this essential ability, he or she cannot be a physician at all, let alone a good one.
Faculty members who are practicing or have practiced medicine usually teach physical diagnosis during the second year of medical school. These physicians share their knowledge and expertise with medical students who hope to emulate their methods of diagnosis and management.
On the other hand, the enthusiasm, wonderment, and altruism of these students impresses and exhilarates the physicians who teach this course. Like passing a baton in a relay race to a spirited runner who will uphold the standards and excellence of the team, the teaching of physical diagnosis can be fulfilling and uplifting. It is a method not only of sharing in the students’ future, but also of participating in their development.
Download the free Physical Exam Sheet
I’ve compiled a “cheat sheet” of the basics for taking a medical history. For any medical students studying physical diagnosis, this list of prompts and questions will be an invaluable resource.