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Maoist Internationalist Movement

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 
the hospital.

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.

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