Learning the Moral Economy of Commodified Health Care: "Community Education," Failed Consumers, and the Shaping of Ethical Clinician-Citizens
Culture, medicine and psychiatry 2011 Jun; 35(2): 183-208
Leaders of health professional schools often support community-based education as a means of promoting emerging practitioners' awareness of health disparities and commitment to serving the poor. Yet, most programs do not teach about the causes of health disparities, raising questions regarding what social and political lessons students learn from these experiences. This article examines the ways in which community-based clinical education programs help shape the subjectivities of new dentists as ethical clinician-citizens within the US commodified health care system. Drawing on ethnographic research during volunteer and required community-based programs and interviews with participants, I demonstrate three implicit logics that students learned: (1) dialectical ideologies of volunteer entitlement and recipient debt; (2) forms of justification for the often inferior care provided to "failed" consumers (patients with Medicaid or uninsured); and (3) specific forms of obligations characterizing the ethical clinician-citizen. I explore the ways these messages reflected the structured relations of both student encounters and the overarching health care system, and examine the strategies faculty supervisors undertook to challenge these messages and relations. Finally, I argue that promoting commitments to social justice in health care should not rely on cultivating altruism, but should instead be pursued through educating new practitioners about the lives of poor people, the causal relationships between poverty and poor health, and attention to the structure of health care and provider-patient interactions. This approach involves shining a critical light on America's commodified health care system as an arena based in relations of power and inequality.
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