The surgeon Jack McKee (William Hurt) carries on an outwardly successful practice while treating his patients with aggressive sarcasm and general disrespect. "There is a danger in becoming too involved with your patients," he warns his residents, reminding them of the surgeon’s credo: "Get in, fix it, get out." Then McKee himself is diagnosed with cancer of the vocal chords, and the doctor discovers patienthood. The process is enormously uncomfortable for him, as he experiences a sharp decline in autonomy and everything that goes with it, and he begins to develop some empathy for those he has always scorned.

Particularly inspiring are several encounters with a coldly professional specialist and a platonic friendship with a young cancer patient named June (Elizabeth Perkins) who is dying because her doctors failed to diagnose her brain tumor. By the end of the film, Dr. McKee is both recovered and converted, and in the last scene is requiring his residents to spend 72 hours as hospital patients as part of their medical training.


As can happen in film versions of major conversions, The Doctor occasionally paints things in rather broad strokes, and its first half (the problem) is more interesting than its second (the solution). In spite of this, the film provides an excellent study of a physician’s difficulties in dealing with his own vulnerability. The attitudes underlying Jack McKee’s difficulties are persuasively linked to the offensively anti-empathetic style of his medical practice.

Several subordinate themes are also well done--for instance, the plight of the doctor’s spouse (played by Christine Lahti), and the dilemma of defending a partner (Mandy Patinkin) against possibly just malpractice litigation. Two scenes in which two very different doctors diagnose and prescribe for Jack McKee’s throat richly suggest the possibilities of medical mistreatment. A number of characters are doctors and nurses in real life, and the credits list a handful of medical consultants.


Based on the book, A Taste of My Own Medicine, by Ed Rosenbaum, M.D.

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