Scientific Contribution

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 233-244

First online:

The practice of health care: Wisdom as a model

  • Ricca EdmondsonAffiliated withPolitical Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland Galway Email author 
  • , Jane PearceAffiliated withPolitical Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland Galway

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Reasoning and judgement in health care entail complex responses to problems whose demands typically derive from several areas of specialism at once. We argue that current evidence- or value-based models of health care reasoning, despite their virtues, are insufficient to account for responses to such problems exhaustively. At the same time, we offer reasons for contending that health professionals in fact engage in forms of reasoning of a kind described for millennia under the concept of wisdom. Wisdom traditions refer to forms of deliberation which combine knowledge, reflection and life experience with social, emotional and ethical capacities. Wisdom is key in dealing with problems which are vital to human affairs but lack prescribed solutions. Uncertainty and fluidity must be tolerated in seeking to resolve them. We illustrate the application of wisdom using cases in psychiatry, where non-technical aspects of problems are often prominent and require more systematic analysis than conventional approaches offer, but we argue that our thesis applies throughout the health care field. We argue for the relevance of a threefold model of reasoning to modern health care situations in which multifaceted teamwork and complex settings demand wise judgement. A model based on practical wisdom highlights a triadic process with features activating capacities of the self (professional), other (patient and/or carers and/or colleagues) and aspects of the problem itself. Such a framework could be used to develop current approaches to health care based on case review and experiential learning.


evidence-based medicine experiential learning health care practitioners judgement multi-disciplinary team practical wisdom psychiatrist values wisdom wise reasoning