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The renowned physician and educator William Osler once observed that “The good physician treats the disease, the great physician treats the patient.” In this colloquium we will apply Osler's insight in evaluating the role of cultural understanding in modern western medicine to three written case studies. First, we'll examine The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, juxtaposing advances in modern medicine with issues of race and poverty and access to medical care, considering the question posed by Deborah (Henrietta’s daughter), “But I have always thought it was strange if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors?” We will then turn to My Own Country, a doctor's recollection of AIDS in the 1980s. Here we will reflect on how a physician’s background and personal views, in this case with respect to medicine and homosexuality, might affect the way in which the physician interacts and treats a patient. Last, we will study The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which recounts the cultural collision of American medical doctors and Hmong parents over what was best for their ill child. We will contemplate the question posed by Sukey, “Which is more important, the life or the soul?”
Course by Professor Sarah Kirk
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