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December 08, 2007, 3:00 PM

Doctor/Patient Relationships

Participants: Bryan Doerries, Jonathan Jacobs, Lyuba Konopasek (moderator), Robert Michels, Louis Pangaro

The roots of western medicine and western theater both spring from the same ancient soil. While medical students today still learn the Hippocratic oath, very few know the story of Philoctetes—one of the oldest extant descriptions of chronic illness in western literature. Sophocles' version of the myth focuses on the special bond that forms between a young, inexperienced soldier and a suffering veteran, whom he has been ordered to betray. Torn between allegiance to his army and compassion for a fellow human, the young soldier soon finds himself struggling with difficult questions that continue to weigh, 2400 years after the play was first performed, upon medical students and doctors today.

What are the ethical boundaries of the doctor/patient relationship? Why should a doctor believe or disbelieve a patient self-reporting pain? Do patients benefit in any way from their afflictions? How and why do doctors emotionally abandon their patients? This roundtable will address these questions and more, using Sophocles' play, which has endured as a remarkably modern statement on illness as identity, as a point of departure. The discussion will explore how imagination and originality can be brought to the understanding of the complex network of transference, empathy and resistance that characterizes the doctor/patient relationship.

Bryan Doerries is a New York based writer and director. Over the past decade he has directed many of his own translations of Greek and Roman plays at theaters and universities across the country. Recent theatrical projects include The Bacchae of Euripedes; Sophocles' Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Bloodhounds, and Philoctetes; Seneca's Phaedra and Octavia; and Virgil's Aeneid, Book IV. He has a B.A. in classics from Kenyon College and an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of California, Irvine.

Jonathan Jacobs is Executive Director of the Center for Special Studies at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. After graduating from Yale University School of Medicine, he did his residency in internal medicine at New York Hospital. He subsequently trained in the subspecialty of infectious diseases at the same institution. He has been a clinician, administrator, and educator for the past 21 years, with a particular interest in HIV disease.

Lyuba Konopasek, M.D., is Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Pediatric Undergraduate Medical Education at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her particular interest is in medical interviewing and the physician-patient relationship and she is developing a longitudinal four-year communication skills curriculum at Weill Cornell. She is also interested in the integration of the arts and humanities into medical education and leads a collaboration between Cornell and the Frick Collection to increase students' clinical observational skills through the study of portraits.

Robert Michels is Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

Louis Pangaro is Professor and Vice-Chairman of Educational Programs in the Department of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland.


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