A Doctor's Take On Public Discourse In The Information Age

Nov 16, 2018

Recently, there was a very public debate on Twitter between the National Rifle Association and an emergency medicine doctor. The NRA essentially contended that doctors shouldn’t weigh in on matters of gun policy, while the doctor said it was precisely the place of his profession to weigh in. The incident was a very high-profile example of the willingness of doctors to enter the public discourse.

But Twitter is obviously not the only way physicians outwardly express themselves. Jay Baruch is an emergency room physician in Rhode Island. He’s also the author of several collections of short fiction and director of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Scholarly Concentration at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School. 

Baruch says medical humanities can mean many things, but he chooses to focus on the humanities through critical thinking, critical inquiry, and encouraging thinking and problem solving through new perspectives.

"My approach to this and my fascination with this work really is informed by the practical challenges that I encounter in my daily work as an emergency physician at a busy level one trauma center," he says.

Medical issues are community issues according to Baruch, and they manifest themselves in hospitals through the basic level of the element of a story. He describes himself as a creative writer who "found himself stumbling into the world of medical humanities," as engaging with patients felt more natural through writing and working with his students.

"I think the opportunities that fall under the umbrella of the humanities, especially at medical schools across this country, are expanding," says Baruch. With broader methods and expressions, he notes that it is important to use those humanities tools within the emergency room. ER doors are always open despite challenges in the medical community and health care system, notes Baruch, and some patients have problems that are not apparent. Instead, they bring their stories, needs, expectations and hopes.

"Not all patients wanted answers," notes Baruch. "Sometimes they just wanted someone to talk to.  Sometimes they wanted understanding. Sometimes they wanted someone who was going to be able to sort of listen to them and maybe just share their struggles with them. And sometimes it was just to recognize that they’re not a body full of biomedical problems, but a person."

Baruch gave the annual medical humanities lecture at the Medical College of Wisconsin this week, and joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich: