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Patch Adams: Individualism confuses message that medicine
should serve the people
review by MC234
Patch Adams is the most recent Robin Williams movie about a
suicidal man who learns that he wants to help people by
being a doctor. While institutionalized, he is offended
that his doctor doesn't listen to him, and is encouraged by
seeing the progress other patients make when he listens to
them. He attends medical school, and challenges the medical
establishment, which holds that doctors should be distanced
from their patients. Patch Adams is based on a true story.
Patch is horrified to learn on his first day of medical
school that he will not even get to see a patient until the
3rd year of school. Soon enough, Patch is posing as a 3rd
year student to follow a doctor on his teaching rounds in
Some of Patch's criticisms of how medicine is structured
agree with the proletarian perspective of medicine. The
bourgeoisie puts great emphasis on technical training and
puts this above common sense and contact with the masses.
Consistently, Patch Adams makes it clear that just because
medicine has "always" been conducted this way doesn't mean
that it always should be. In the film, Patch makes great
solidarity with the 1970s era nurses, who are portrayed as
better health care providers because they are not as
divorced from their patients as the doctors.
Towards the end of the film, Patch Adams faces a medical
tribunal to appeal his expulsion from medical school for
practicing medicine without a license. Patch Adams and his
friends had been operating a free medical clinic. In his
own defense, Patch argues that since he was helping people,
he was practicing medicine. He says that since everyone at
the clinic helps each other, they are all doctors. And
because everyone at the clinic is learning and healing as a
result of other's actions, they are all patients too.
All through the film we were quietly rooting for Patch to
take his struggle to the masses. And in the final tribunal
scene he does. Over the loud objections of the tribunal,
Patch Adams turns his back on the doctors passing judgment
to speak to the medical students in the balcony. Regardless
of the outcome of the tribunal, Patch calls on the next
generation of doctors, the medical students, to serve the
While this film makes sharp criticisms of the anti-people
medical system, the solution it portrays is not only non-
revolutionary, it's confused and easily misunderstood.
Patch Adams is a not good doctor because he uses ITAL humor
END (as the film implies), but because he tries to connect
with his patients and concretely apply his technical
training. Humor is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
What is important is that medicine, like all skills, be
used in a way that serves the interests and needs of the
Furthermore, for bullshit Hollywood romance and melodrama
reasons, Patch goes through a whirlwind romance with a
womyn who is eventually murdered by a suicidal patient.
Listening to the little girl sitting behind us after the
film confirmed our suspicion that the real memory this film
will leave will be the murder of Patch's girlfriend.
Instead of encouraging doctors to not put themselves above
their patients, the film could encourage more fear of those
labeled mentally ill.
Finally, Patch Adams latches on to an anti-scientific,
individualist current in Amerikan society, which believes
that "positive thinking" alone can cure disease, or vice
versa, that disease springs from "bad vibes." This outlook
is rooted in typical Amerikan "I can make it on my own"
thinking and is fed by a booming industry peddling snake
oil treatments and thinly veiled religion. It downplays the
fact that disease has material reality outside of our
subjective consciousness. It especially ignores that social
factors influence death and disease, from exposure to toxic
waste to the availability of adequate preventative and
emergency medical care.
In order to make the unfocused ideas of Patch Adams a
reality, what is needed is a revolution to change the
systems of inequality in Amerika and around the world.
While Patch Adams' free clinic is a progressive start, we
need a revolution to transform the entire system.
MC206 contributed to this review.