Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 1999


April 28, 1999


— The real "Patch" Adams urged Kansas University Medical Center students to buck the system if it compromises their beliefs.

Hunter "Patch" Adams dresses in a kooky, even downright strange, fashion, but he's serious when he tells medical students to be "aggressively funny" and remain true to their beliefs.

"You break every rule you think is not a good rule," Adams told Kansas University Medical Center students and faculty Tuesday afternoon.

The controversial doctor and clown encouraged the students to set a "raging example" of nonconformity because "change in institutions doesn't come as quickly as change in yourself."

As one of the founders of the Gesundheit Institute, a West Virginia 40-bed "fun" hospital that will provide free care when completed, Adams has seen his popularity rise because of the recent movie based on his life. "Patch Adams," released late last year, starred Robin Williams in the title role.

Adams' first trip to the medical center filled 25 to 30 seats in 1988; on Tuesday, students spilled onto the stage, into the aisles and lined the walls leading to the Battenfeld Auditorium in the student center.

"I think you can see the currency of popular culture today," said Adams, who wore a pink tie with a flamingo on it, one red sock and one yellow sock, a pair of billowing harem pants, a shirt printed with Halloween masks, and an earring resembling a fork in his left ear. An intense streak of blue marked his otherwise gray hair, which was bound in a ponytail.

Students shouldn't be afraid to question conventional methods of teaching, talking about whatever they believe in even if it makes others uncomfortable, he said. His own methods apparently made others in the profession uncomfortable, including agencies that provide grants for medical organizations. When he and a group of other doctors opened a nonconventional hospital in a renovated six-bedroom house, the group received almost no donations, a trend that continued despite the 500 to 1,000 patients they treated for free over 12 years.

Donations are picking up because of the movie, and although it broke Adams' vow of no publicity, the movie was a vehicle that's helping him build the Gesundheit Institute. He said the movie is a "kindergarten" version of his form of compassion, but even that message is far better than any of the violent movies on the market.

Lisa Scheer, a third-year medical student at the school, told Adams the movie gave her strength to continue classes, despite apprehensions about being a doctor brought on by doctors and teachers who refuse to consider change.

"Never blame the system, or your parents or the government for your compromises," Adams said.

Later, Scheer, who is about 15 years older than the average medical student, said she has seen behavior that is insulting both to students and patients at the medical center.

"I feel the younger students try to roll with the system and not question it," she said. " ... I won't forget (Adams') words; I will let him haunt my conformity."

Jim Fishbeck, the medical center's director of pathology, said he agreed with Adams that greed has adversely affected medicine, but said Adams wouldn't survive at an HMO, where the bottom line won't allow doctors to spend to much time with patients.

"These companies have seen how much money there is to make on medicine," he said.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is

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