November 3, 2006

Adams brings his take on state of medicine to students

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Patch Adams talks to students following his recent lecture.
Photo by Anne Rayner

Adams brings his take on state of medicine to students

Patch Adams, M.D., an unconventional doctor who became a household name through a 1998 movie starring Robin Williams, unloaded on government and medicine while advocating love and compassion as medical treatments to Vanderbilt School of Medicine students attending a two-hour lecture Oct. 25 in Light Hall.

Sporting partially blue hair with a non-matching tie and accompanying outfit, the founder of the Gesundheit! Institute called President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “mass murderers,” predicted VUSM's doctors-in-training will live to see the extinction of the human race and advised the physicians-in-training to withhold prescribing psychotropic medications for mental illness patients.

“Our government is worse than Hitler because they are making decisions that can make us extinct,” Adams said.

“We need to find a way to not put murderous people in charge … they are heinous, they are mass murderers. They even told us to call it Shock and Awe.”

Adams, who publicly offered to examine Bush for mental illness in 2004, said he likes to spend at least four hours with a new patient during their first meeting.

“People want fabulous listening,” he said. “Sweet tenderness … I want to know everything.”

The Gesundheit! Institute, a home-based family medical practice, operated in Northern Virginia from 1971-1983 and treated more than 15,000 patients without payment, malpractice insurance or formal facilities.

In 1983, Adams shifted his focus to raising money to fund his dream of a fantasy hospital envisioned to be an especially silly, playful place with trap doors, eyeball-shaped exam rooms and chandeliers to swing on.

He has plans to open the revamped Gesundheit! in West Virginia as a health care eco-community where staff and patients live together on a campus that includes a farm, theatre, crafts centre and recreational facility.

Adams speaks roughly 300 days a year and has visited more than 90 medical schools in 60 countries. He also enlists volunteers to travel with him as clowns to bring hope and joy to orphans, patients and people in some of the world's poorest countries.

“I was really impressed with him because he has a set of personal beliefs and he sticks to those beliefs no matter what anybody else says, no matter what anybody else does,” said fourth-year VUSM student Philip Budge, Ph.D. “I really admire that because there are very, very few people in the world who are that way.

“But I think most of us feel like we need to work within the system and we need to compromise some and he is very uncompromising. I don't think you can necessarily run a country that way or even run a hospital that way.”

Adams caught the attention of Scott Rodgers, M.D., assistant dean of Students, when he labeled depression as a “selfish act” and spoke against the use of psychotropic medications as treatment.

“To me depression is a symptom of a disease called loneliness,” Adams said. “You cannot be depressed and hold someone you love in your mind at the same time — it is impossible.”

Rodgers, a psychiatrist who has seen many patients with mental illness, labeled the speaker's advice as ‘malpractice.’

“I was shocked and dismayed to hear a famous and influential physician speak in this way about mental illness,” Rodgers said.

“While I am the first to admit that we all need love in our lives, I can tell you that I have seen many patients with plenty of love and support who nevertheless succumb to such illnesses as depression. For these patients, and for others without love and support, medications may represent a lifesaving alternative and should not be avoided.”