Inaugural Lecture – video

Practising alchemy: the transmutation of evidence into best health care

A paper based on this lecture was published online 1st December 2010 by the UK journal Family Practice:
Practising alchemy: the transmutation of evidence into best health care


Alchemy was the synthesis or transmutation of all elements in perfect balance to obtain the philosopher’s stone, the key to health. Just as alchemists sought this, so health practitioners always seek the best possible practice for optimal health outcomes for our patients. Best practice requires full knowledge – a little information can be dangerous. We need to serve our apprenticeship before we master our profession.

Our profession is about improving health care. While the journey may start at medical school, the learning never ceases. It is not only about practising medicine, it is about the development of the practitioner. Professional practice requires systematic thinking combined with capacity to deal morally and creatively in areas of complexity and uncertainty appropriate to a specific context.

It requires exemplary communication skills to interact with patients to facilitate collaborative decision making resulting in best practice. The synthesis of scientific and contextual evidence is a concept which applies to all disciplines where theoretical knowledge needs to be transferred to action to inform best practice. Decisions need to be made which take into account a complex array of factors, such as social and legal issues and resource constraints.

Therefore, journey towards best practice involves transmutation of these three elements: scientific knowledge, the context in which it is applied and phronesis, the practical wisdom of the practitioner. All science has its limitations and we can never know all possible contextual information. Hence, like the philosopher’s stone, best practice is a goal to which we aspire but never quite attain.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three