ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Is Medical School a Cult?


Stanford is affectionately called, The Farm.   But that got me thinking that it sounds a bit like the site of a cult.  How do you know a cult when you see one?

Luckily, you can find anything you want online, including this checklist to help determine if something is a cult from the International Cultic Studies Association.  Let’s see how medical school stacks up.

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
    Meh.  There is a bit of a cult of personality around deans, department chairs, and so on.  
  • ‪ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
    No. Medical school administrators are relatively open to feedback and critique.  It’s unclear if you will be punished later though.
  • ‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
    Meh. Define debilitating work routine?  Some of the work is certainly spirit crushing and going long periods without sleep is mind altering.
  • ‪ The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
    Meh. They do tell you what clothes to wear, and there are special clothes for members of the group.
  • ‪ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  • ‪ The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
    Yes. Patients and providers are considered very different.
  • ‪ The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
    No.  The leaders can get sued or fired.
  • ‪ The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
    Yes.  I’m giving this a yes because you are being allowed/taught to do things that otherwise would be illegal, unethical or rude.  You’re taught how to cut into people, how to drug, how to ask people personal/invasive questions, how to examine/touch people in private parts of their bodies, and just generally given permission to do weird stuff to people. 
  • ‪ The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • ‪ Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
    Yes.  You certainly have less time to have interact with your friends and family and any hobbies you might have had.
  • ‪ The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
    Yes.  Medical school spends a huge amount of time on interviewing, recruitment.
  • ‪ The group is preoccupied with making money.
  • ‪ Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  • ‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
    Yes.  There are lots of med student only social activities and it can easily take over all your social interactions.  Non med students also get sick of hearing about medical school things.
  • ‪ The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
    Yes.  Gunners gonna gun.

So, medical school does not seem to exhibit all the properties of a cult, but it is certainly very cultish.

Next time maybe I need to talk about Deprogramming.




2 responses to “Is Medical School a Cult?

  1. barefootmedstudent May 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    LOVE this! At my medical school the professors don’t really like being questioned… but as for the rest, you’re spot on!

  2. Dave May 29, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Very interesting analysis. I’d also say that a “cult” that requires each entrant to have several years training in science (which is heavily intertwined with critical thinking) would be hard to sustain. I think some folks can get dogmatic about med school, but you’ll likely find that most of them are there for the right reason. That’s my hope when I start going to med school this fall.

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