Blog | Thursday, May 15, 2008

All I know of medicine I learned at the movies


It sounded like the most light-hearted and superficial of sessions. Little did I guess how the entertainment industry's portrayals of docs would inspire heavy doses of self-reflection on the meaning of medicine among panelists and attendees. Topics ranged from the inexplicable appeal of House ("At least you know he's paying attention," said panelist Faith Fitzgerald) to the unfortunate realism of a patient laughing hysterically when a doctor provided his home phone number in As Good As It Gets.

There were of course the usual laments about insurance companies, workforce shortages and tort lawyers, but many bigger, unanswerable issues were raised. ("What do we do to recover a sense of integrity?" asked one panelist.)

One particularly interesting issue raised by the session was racial discrimination in medicine. In a film clip, Sidney Poitier played a black physician who was spit upon by the white mother of a patient. One contemporary parallel, which the group discussion touched upon but didn't delve too much into, was discrimination against IMGs. Session moderator Michael LaCombe asked IMGs in the audience how many felt discriminated against and almost none raised their hands. He was surprised, as was I, since just yesterday I heard a U.S. Congressman bemoan the shortage of "Caucasian" doctors. And it's certainly not unusual to hear dismay within medicine about the trend of IM residency slots being filled by IMGs instead of U.S. grads.

The general attitude at the session seemed to be that these issues of discrimination in medicine are on their way out, but I wonder. Is the American attitude toward IMGs (both among physicians and in the general public) the modern-day equivalent of the racism faced by Sidney Poitier's character in "No Way Out"?