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En-case-ing the Patient: Disciplining Uncertainty in Medical Student Patient Presentations.
Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry (2011)
  • Seth M. Holmes, PhD, MD, University of California - Berkeley
  • Maya Ponte, PhD, MD, University of California, San Francisco

The problem-oriented medical record is the widespread, standardized format for presenting and recording information about patients, which is taught to future physicians early in their medical training. Based on our participant obser- vation of medical training, we analyze the ways in which the patient presentation operates in medical training as a disciplinary technology that manages uncertainty in the clinical decision-making process. We uncover various mechanisms at work including the construction of a coherent narrative structure in which chaotic experiences are re-organized and re-interpreted to fit neatly in a linear plot with a predictable ending, the atomization of the patient as a whole into separable ‘‘problems,’’ the attempt to solve these ‘‘problems’’ as though they are independent of one another, and the mystification of translations in scale, which give rise to much of the uncertainty in medicine. Operating at the boundary of the chaotic and often ungraspable world of the suffering experience of the patient and the highly structured realm of the medical record, a patient presentation is one medium through which both a disciplined record of experience and disciplined medical practitioners are produced. This process functions to transform the human subject patient into a recognizable, generic clinical case, and the medical student into an identifiable, professional future physician.

  • Medical Student,
  • Problem Based Medical Record,
  • Patient Presentation
Publication Date
Citation Information
Seth M. Holmes and Maya Ponte. "En-case-ing the Patient: Disciplining Uncertainty in Medical Student Patient Presentations." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry Vol. 35 Iss. 2 (2011)
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