The Wizard of Oz and The Walk-Off of the Medical Students


Medical students are just now starting their yellow brick road journey…

yellow brick road



In yesterday’s column, I called for more psychiatric stories. On the day before, I had watched one of the greatest (psychiatric) stories of all time. For my wife’s birthday on July 28th, we went to see a musical version of the “Wizard of Oz.” Not only was the one we saw an inventive and inspiring performance, but I finally got a sense of the deep psychological meanings of what is often viewed as a children’s story.

In the beginning of Oz, Dorothy walks off from her home after repeatedly getting into trouble and having her dog Toto taken by a mean neighbor and citizen of power. Somewhere there is a rainbow, she sings, but first she has to encounter a climate changing tornado, and after many Jungian archetypal obstacles and challenges, ends up meeting the so-called Wizard of Oz. She then gets home, as if waking from a dream.

Around the same time, I was grappling with the videos of the white coat ceremony on July 24th of a large number of new medical students at our alma mater, the University of Michigan. They left in protest of the keynote speaker, Kristin Collier, MD, apparently because of her “pro-life” stance regarding abortion and their defense of social medical justice. Although they asked for a replacement, the leadership confirmed her participation. Ironically, Dr Collier was picked by the honors society, which had included medical students, because she was a beloved teacher and head of the spirituality, religion, and health programs, but that choice was made before the formal end of Roe v Wade.

In Dorothy’s Campbellian heroic journey over the yellow brick road, she is accompanied by a scarecrow, tin man, and lion, who are in search of their brain, heart, and courage, respectively. By the end, in a cognitive behavioral therapeutic reframing, they come to realize they always had those powers, but had not realized or used them.

Reading up more about Dr Collier, she described going on her own heroic journey. Coming to the medical school 17 years ago as a liberal “pro-choice” atheist, over time she converted to Christianity, and in 2018 became “pro-life.” For her keynote, she said in advance that she was not going to comment on her private religious beliefs, nor on this controversial subject, and she did not. Instead, she focused on the general issue of how medicine is becoming more technological and under the assumed control of business, whereby physicians and patients distressingly have less therapeutic choices. After the keynote, when the walk-off students were being harassed, she asked for that to stop.

The medical students, both those who walked off and who did not, are just beginning their yellow brick road ethical journey in a time of a physician burnout epidemic. I hope there is follow-up discussion and processing for all concerned, perhaps to include a screening of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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