Medical Virtue in Contemporary Practice: Has COVID-19 Reawakened Virtue in the Modern Medical Encounter?


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Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic further unsettle an already overburdened healthcare system, leading medical professionals to reevaluate priorities and redefine their professional identities. Focusing particularly on the meaning of care in the physician-patient relationship, this thesis develops an argument for the type of medical practice that incorporates Aristotelean ideals of virtue. The discussion shows that virtuous practice requires much more than following declarations of medical professionalism found in organizational charters—it requires a more humanistic approach suitable to address the complexity of the patient as person. Ultimately humanistic, this approach to caring is an engaged practice that involves empathy and attunement as the foundation of the healing presence and as a key to virtuous practice. An empathic attunement that witnesses and validates a particular patient’s individual experience of illness and suffering leads the physician to engage in clinical discernment—a being with the patient that is a necessary element of the physician’s clinical logic. Thus, supported by principles in the philosophy of medicine, and affirmed by physicians’ personal narratives of illness and by reflections from pandemic medical professionals, I argue that virtue lies in the discernment, the prudential decision making. Physicians’ personal experiences of illness, as well as the reflections of those practicing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, provide examples of the reality of virtuous medical practice: that care is open and dynamic, changing with the tide of scientific progress and contextualized for each particular patient in this evolving world. In their remarkable experiences, physicians show that virtue lies in embracing the present, discerning the right and good thing to do, and ultimately in being present with their patients as they care for them.



Medical Virtue, Virtue Practice, COVID-19, COVID-19 and Practice, Empathic Medical Practice, Contemporary Practice