Producers: Mike Farrell, Barry Kemp, Marvin Minoff, Charles Newirth, Marsha Garces
Director: Tom Shadyac
Screenplay: Steve Oedekerk
Gofannon Le Boutillier HYMS student: In this biographical drama Robin Williams stars as the real life American physician Dr Hunter ‘Patch’ Adams.
Patch founded the Gesundheit Institute in 1971, a non-profit health care organization founded on the principle that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world or the health care system itself. The institute began life in West Virginia as a free community hospital staffed entirely by volunteers. Central to its ethos is the philosophy that laughter and play are essential components of effective medical care. Today, Gesundheit runs a global outreach programme and has provided humanitarian aid, medical education and clowning missions in over 65 countries.
The film opens with Adams committing himself into a psychiatric hospital. Depressed and suicidal, he seeks deliverance through the medical profession. However, life as a patient is not easy and in the sterile, sombre confines of the hospital, he struggles with his cold and uncompassionate psychiatrist. Patch gradually begins to bond with his fellow patients and through them is inspired to become a doctor. In one hilarious scene, Adams’s cellmate trembles in fear as imaginary squirrels encircle his bed. Patch dispatches the furry menace with an imaginary bazooka and a doctor is born!
Fast forward two years and Patch begins medical school where he soon bumps heads with the pompous Dean Walcott. The Dean, a staunch advocate of distancing oneself from the patient to effectively treat disease proclaims; “our job is to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We’re gonna make doctors out of you.” Unconvinced by such rhetoric, trouble begins when Patch starts making unauthorised ward rounds and befriending patients.
A scene where Adams entertains children on a cancer ward using his own brand of slapstick clowning (substituting an enema bulb for a clowns nose) is particularly touching. The stage is set for a climatic showdown as the dedicated Adams ruffles the administrative feathers of Dean Walcott.
Robin Williams is expertly cast as the warm hearted, maverick medical student and has some of the best lines in the film “You treat a disease, you win, you loose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.” The script is genuinely funny (look out for the gynaecological convention) and there are just enough dramatic twists to keep things interesting.
What would Patch make of medical education today?
As set out by the GMC in Tomorrow’s Doctors (2009) and Good Medical Practice (2006), effective communication and a patient-centred approach to healthcare are at the forefront of UK undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. Through innovative teaching practices such as Problem Based Learning and early patient contact, today’s medical graduates work in partnership with their patients. Patient’s views about their own health are valued and their concerns and preferences are given voice.
I’m sure the real Patch would approve. So, should Patch Adams be required viewing for doctors? Perhaps not, but if you think laughter really is the best medicine and are prepared to overlook the sentimental Hollywood clichés, then you won’t go far wrong with his thoughtful and intelligent film.