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The Power of the Medical Gaze

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

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Course Description

In our society, physicians hold both a high level of status and a mandate to help anyone who is in need to the best of their ability. With this power and responsibility, the history of medicine has had moments of darkness where patients, often in disadvantaged and vulnerable circumstances were overlooked, or worse. With this course, I would like to use these examples to deconstruct the power that medicine has in society and expose both the history of harm and the potential for progress.

Do no harm. It's a phrase associated by many to be an integral maxim of medicine. However, as a profession associated with power and status in society, how has medicine contributed to structural forms of violence directed towards vulnerable and disadvantaged populations? With events like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in its history, the role of physicians within the context of medicine holds both a history of harm and power abuse and many examples of progress and healing.

With a focus on the medical gaze and the politics of power between the observer and the observed, this course will allow students to critically deconstruct the high position held by physicians in our society. We will start the course with an overview of academic theory on power and privilege along with other readings. We will then narrow our scope by focusing on case studies that expose the ways in which medicine has used its power in an objectifying and violent way. We will end our course on a positive note by discussing the potential for medicine to use its power to advocate for those who lack voices in greater society. In realizing that medicine is an interdisciplinary topic, this course will be of interest to students who wish to pursue careers in medicine and public health along with a desire to expand the scope of their learning to the humanities.

Studying medicine from a humanities perspective will help students realize the expansive, interdisciplinary aspects of medicine, which can benefit their future performances in their hard science and social science classes.

By the end of this course, students will:
• understand key events in the history of medicine and its effects on current social relationships between the physician and the patient
• be able to discuss notions of power and privilege from a theoretical perspective, while applying these academic theories to cases and examples that actually occurred

No specific course prerequisites, but interest and engagement with the topics are necessary.

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