Paper Proposal: “Representing Disability and Emotion”

Journal of Literary and Cultural Disabilities Studies
Johanna Shapiro, Ph.D. March 16, 2009

Medical education does not typically pay attention to the emotions of its trainees. In fact, both the formal and informal curricula convey the message that the appropriate relational position vis-à-vis the patient is one of emotional distance and detachment. Yet it is well-documented that medical trainees have a range of intense emotional reactions to patients, not all of them positive. Students may feel anxiety, fear, frustration, impatience, and sadness, even disgust and revulsion.

The complicated emotions evoked in patient care are often particularly intense in clinical situations involving marginalized and stigmatized populations such as persons with HIV/AIDS, obesity, cultural difference, drug and alcohol abuse, and disabilities because of the heightened temptation to see these patients as threatening and alien others. As a case in point, disability can trigger feelings of loss, randomness and chaos, not only in the person with the disability, but also in the person observing the effects of disability. Unfortunately, medical school curriculum focusing on patients with disabilities is negligible, and what does exist rarely addresses the complexity of healthcare providers’ emotional responses to their patients.

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