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What Is Medical Intuition?

Excerpted from Essentials of Medical Intuition: A Visionary Path to Wellness (Watkins/Penguin-Random House, 2022)

In 2005, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened a committee of experts to study the use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. Their report defined medical intuition as, “the utilization of a focused, intuitive instinct to ‘diagnose’ or ‘read’ energetic and frequency information in and around the human body.” With all due respect to the IOM experts, the word “diagnose” is not used correctly in their definition. A diagnosis implies a sequential process of analysis through evaluation of medical history, physical examination and testing. Only a licensed medical professional can provide a diagnosis. Holistic psychiatrist, author and researcher Daniel Benor suggested the more accurate term “intuitive assessment” for medical intuition.

The basis of medical intuition is that the body and the biofield hold information pertaining not only to physical imbalance, but also to emotional, mental and spiritual imbalances. Medical intuition is designed to bring the underlying energetic causes and drivers of illness, imbalance and disease to conscious awareness, to help promote wellbeing in body, mind and spirit. As you will discover, this invaluable skill is intended to provide a comprehensive, whole-person context for health.

Here is a new definition of medical intuition:

• Medical intuition is a skill of intuitive observation and assessment using a system of expanded perception gained through the development of the human sense of intuition.
• Medical intuition focuses on in-depth intuitive scanning designed to obtain information from both the physical body systems and the biofield.
• Medical intuition is intended to identify and assess energetic patterns in both the physical body systems and the biofield that may correspond to illness, imbalance and disease.
• Medical intuition is designed to address the energetic influence of thoughts, beliefs and emotions, and how they may impact the health and wellbeing of an individual.

We are deeply interested in knowing what our bodies really want for optimal health and balance. Medical intuition offers patients and clients the potential to gain greater personal awareness and insight, and to become a partner in their own wellness journey. For the healthcare professional, medical intuition offers the opportunity to deliver fast, pertinent intuitive health assessments for a cost-effective targeted approach to a patient or client’s concerns. Most importantly, medical intuition can help unlock the door to relevant and profound breakthroughs when people aren’t healing, despite best efforts.

The Clinical Hunch

Healthcare professionals recognize the importance of a “gut feeling” or a “hunch.” A growing wealth of scientific literature acknowledges non-analytical reasoning as integral to clinical decision-making. In fact, the Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is stocked with thousands of studies on how, when and why clinicians use their intuition.

Physician Trisha Greenhalgh is Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, UK. She argues that intuitive insights are commonplace in general practice and should be accepted. “Intuition is not unscientific,” she writes. “It is a highly creative process, fundamental to hypothesis generation in science. The experienced practitioner should generate and follow clinical hunches, as well as (not instead of ) applying the deductive principles of evidence-based medicine.” Professor Tim Mickleborough of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education agrees. “Technical knowledge alone is not sufficient to solve the complex problems that professionals face on a daily basis, and intuition … is crucial for any professional’s practice,” he writes.

How do doctors use their intuition? To find out, one study investigated real cases of physician intuition. Eighteen family medicine doctors were interviewed about their intuitive decision-making processes with patients. Their responses were sorted into three different types of intuitions: “gut feelings,” which triggered a sense of alarm that spurred them to take action; “recognitions,” decisions made in the face of conflicting information or a lack of evidence; and “insights,” occurring as a rapid flash of inspiration that connected the dots to a correct diagnosis when no symptom interpretation was obvious.

Although traditional thinking warns doctors not to trust their intuition, the researchers pointed out, “Physicians reported only 7 cases for which their intuitions turned out to be incorrect,” and came to the conclusion, “There cannot be a simple, catchall directive to physicians to avoid intuition.”

Is It Really Intuition?

It is clear that the medical world values intuition. Yet science demands that there must be a reasonable and acceptable explanation. Scientists speculate that the intuitive process taps into an expert clinician’s vast knowledge base gathered from their many years in practice.10 This knowledge, stored deep in subconscious memory, can be accessed in a non-linear, nonanalytic fashion, leading to a “hunch” that may steer them to the correct diagnosis. Though this seems plausible, it also implies that only experienced practitioners have access to intuition, and that novices do not.

The idea that less experienced practitioners have no access to their intuition has been challenged. Torsten Liem, Joint Principal of the German School of Osteopathy, considers it “highly likely” that intuitive judgment in clinical reasoning contributes to the final decisions of both novices and experts.

A report published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing investigated this notion further. Researchers chose nurses with varying levels of experience from several different clinical units in one medical center. The nurses completed the Rew Intuitive Judgment Scale (RIJS). Regardless of their self-reported proficiency or years in the field, no differences in their intuition scores were found. Among the nurses I’ve taught, I have also seen that their length of time in nursing does not have an influence on their ability to learn and use medical intuition.

Pattern recognition is another way intuition has typically been explained. This is defined as the right brain’s capacity to pick up and respond to both subtle and complex signals. Patterns in body language, voice tone and other physical or emotional cues that may go unnoticed by the practitioner’s conscious mind are registered subconsciously, which can lead to a sense of intuitive awareness.

These two comfortable definitions of intuition – as knowledge gained from expert-level experience or as subconscious recognition of subtle cues and responses – do not accurately explain the enigmatic nature of medical intuition. While they may seem similar, they lack the crucial component of a pure, unadulterated intuitive event.

Most people are familiar with the uncanny occurrence of an out-of-the-blue intuitive hit that cannot be linked to knowledge hidden in our memories or to elusive cues lurking in our subconscious minds. Investigation into this type of phenomenon generally resides in the domain of parapsychology – a field with enough “woo-woo” in it to make a medical scientist blush. Will these two areas of science ever meet in the middle? Medical intuition may be the bridge.

Author Bio:

Wendie Colter, MCWC, CMIP, is a Certified Medical Intuitive, Master Certified Wellness Coach, and founder/CEO of The Practical Path®, Inc. Her accredited certification program, Medical Intuitive Training™, has been pivotal in helping wellness professionals develop and optimize their inherent intuition. Wendie’s trailblazing research on medical intuition is published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, and she is the author of the groundbreaking book, Essentials of Medical Intuition: A Visionary Path to Wellness (Watkins/Penguin-Random House). For more information:

  1. Institute of Medicine, Committee on the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public. (2005). Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States:Appendix A, CAM Therapies, Practices and Systems. National Academies Press.
  2. Benor, D. (2001). Intuitive Assessments: An Overview. Copyright © Daniel J. Benor, M.D. 2001. Reprinted with permission of the author P.O. Box 76 Bellmawr, NJ 08099 [email protected]
  3. Greenhalgh, T. (2002). Intuition and Evidence – Uneasy Bedfellows? The British Journal of General Practice: The Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners , 52 (478), 395–400.
  4. Mickleborough, T. (2015). Intuition in Medical Practice: A Reflection on Donald Schön’s Reflective Practitioner. Medical Teacher, 37 (10), 889–891.
  5. Woolley, A., & Kostopoulou, O. (2013). Clinical Intuition in Family Medicine: More Than First Impressions. The Annals of Family Medicine, 11(1), 60–66.
  6. Ibid
  7. Liem, T. (2017). Intuitive Judgement in the Context of Osteopathic Clinical Reasoning. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 117 (9), 586–594.
  8. Miller, E. M., Hill, P. D. (2018). Intuition in Clinical Decision Making: Differences Among Practicing Nurses. Journal of Holistic Nursing , 36 (4), 318–329.


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