Intentional empathy and integrative thinking are essential elements of a medical interview. Yet the repetitive, sometimes monotonous, nature of medical practice can compromise their achievement. Emotional and intellectual fatigue may lead to clouded observation with diagnostic errors resulting. In spite of a long extant pedagogy of teaching interviewing techniques and creative mnemonics, hurdles remain and significant miscues continue. The challenge is one of surmounting these obstacles and of finding ‘new’ ways to perform ‘old’ tasks. It is to do what we already know to do but somehow do not. In the essay which follows, two Talmudic legends are identified and discussed as paradigms for empathy and integrative thinking. They are offered as ‘literary mnemonics’ for potential use in physician–patient encounters. The legends are linked to the insights of contemporary scholars including Jerome Groopman, Danielle Ofri, Roger Martin and others who have considered concepts of cognition, emotion, empathy, ‘opposable mind’ and integrative thinking in medical and non-medical settings.
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