Afflicted: how vulnerability can heal medical education and practice

In Afflicted, Nicole Piemonte examines the preoccupation in medicine with cure over care, arguing that the traditional focus on biological intervention keeps medicine from addressing the complex realities of patient suffering. Although many have pointed to the lack of compassion and empathy in medical practice, few have considered the deeper philosophical, psychological, and ontological reasons for it. Piemonte fills that gap, examining why it is that clinicians and medical trainees largely evade issues of vulnerability and mortality and, doing so, offer patients compromised care. She argues that contemporary medical pedagogy and epistemology are not only shaped by the human tendency to flee from the reality of death and suffering but also perpetuate it. The root of the problem, she writes, is the educational and institutional culture that promotes reductionist understandings of care, illness, and suffering but avoids any authentic confrontation with human suffering and the fear and self-doubt that can come with that confrontation. Through a philosophical analysis of the patient-practitioner encounter, Piemonte argues that the doctor, in escaping from authentic engagement with a patient who is suffering, in fact “escapes from herself.”

Piemonte explores the epistemology and pedagogy of medicine, examines its focus on calculative or technical thinking, and considers how “clinical detachment” diminishes physicians. She suggests ways that educators might cultivate the capacity for authentic patient care and proposes specific curricular changes to help students expand their moral imaginations.

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