Every so often, when the endless hours of studying and lack of sleep start to catch up with me, it becomes difficult to find motivation to keep studying. Getting bogged down in the detailed symptoms of this disease or the inexplicable physiology of that syndrome makes it easy to lose sight of the big picture – of why I applied to medical school in the first place. It’s during these times that I take a 2 hour break from studying for the night and pop in my favorite movie.
During my junior of college, I had the privilege of meeting Patch Adams. He came to speak at my school, and, to be completely honest, I can’t even remember what the subject of his talk that day was. What I do remember is that he came out on stage wearing his trademark clown suit (pictured left) and made the entire audience laugh for a few hours. When I met him afterward to sign his book, I asked him what his recommendations were for a student who was thinking about going into medicine. It was fairly loud in the room and I couldn’t quite make out what he said, but above his signature he wrote ‘Follow Your Dreams.’ Cheesy, yes. But meaningful when coming from the right person.
There’s a scene toward the end of the movie where Patch is pleading for his right to graduate from medical school. The dialogue is, again, cheesy. But it’s an amazing philosophy and a great reminder of why I applied to medical school in the first place.
Patch: At what point in history did a doctor become more than a trusted and learned friend who visited and treated the ill? Now, you ask me if I have been practicing medicine. Well, if this means opening your door to those in need, those in pain, caring for them, listening to them, applying a cold cloth until a fever breaks; if this is practicing medicine, if this is treating a patient, then I am guilty as charged, sir.
Dean: Did you consider the ramifications of your actions? What if one of your patients had died?
Patch: What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity, and dignity, and decency, and god forbid maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy, gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all – indifference. Now, I’ve sat in your schools and heard people lecture on transference and professional distance. Transference is inevitable, sir. Every human being has an impact on another. Why don’t we want that in a patient-doctor relationship? That’s why I’ve listened to your teachings and I believe they’re wrong. A doctor’s mission should be not just to prevent death, but also to improve the quality of life. That’s why you treat a disease – you win, you lose. You treat a person - I guarantee you’ll win no matter what the outcome.