Sutton’s law

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Sutton’s law2016-12-27T13:39:38+00:00

Sutton’s law

Sutton’s law image from New Medical Terms

Willie Sutton, bank robber


Sutton’s law is a popular “guideline” evoked to temper the enthusiasm of externs–US medical students in their 3rd and 4th years of school–and other novices in clinical medicine, who want to work up a condition–e.g., an acute abdomen, for porphyria, metastatic medulloblastoma or other esoterica, while ignoring a particular symptom’s more common causes.

The “law” is attributed to the noted bank robber, Willie Sutton (1901-1980) who, when asked why he robbed banks, reportedly replied, “…because that’s where the money is” (Sutton claimed he didn’t say it, but who cares? PT Barnum never said, There’s a sucker born every minute). To apply Sutton’s law then, is to search for the most likely cause of a symptom–i.e., go where the “money” is


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