Before the recent shift to pass/fail step I scoring authorities at the NBME and the Federation of State Medical Boards derided students for likely devoting “more time to activities that make them less prepared to provide quality care, such as binge-watching the most recent Netflix series” in a score free world. Not only was this view misguided from its principles but with the premiere of Bending the Arc on Netflix the site has become an excellent place to look for inspiration to provided quality care even in the most challenging circumstances. Bending the Arc chronicles the journey of the organization Partners in Health and its co-founder and central figure Paul Farmer across decades in the service of global health equity and in active conflict with the principle that the lottery of birth engenders a differential of value between human lives.
It is my opinion that anything which increases the world’s exposure to Dr. Farmer and his work can only be a net positive. The reason for this can be seen through something I always tell my friends if they ever have the enormous joy of meeting Dr. Farmer. Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s biography of Farmer is not his book; it is a book about him. Pathologies of Power, Infections and Inequalities and their myriad siblings those are his books, the ones he jokes about no one reading but I’m sure knows are sources of strength and inspiration for so many people. What inspires me about Dr. Farmer is embodied in that humility, in that ability to say the book where I’m the hero is not my book but instead the books about the work, the patients, justice, and the process are. What further inspires me is that the figures who walk those pages and the world’s stages have not lost themselves in their trek across mountains of time, notoriety, and mounting responsibility. Given the scope of the issues he deals with that Dr. Farmer for example still takes the time to thank an individual student for his relatively paltry contributions and perhaps more impressively remembers that selfsame student for years later and readily in for their family when they could not make graduation is striking in the best way possible. When I first read Mountains Beyond Mountains it inspired me in the manner of a myth establishing an asymptote of achievement to be approached but never fully realized now it instead has taught me the tallest mountains are those we allow our own imaginations to construct and that those who are most deeply rooted in their own humanity are the best suited to surmount them.
With the release of Bending the Arc it is my hope that the role models who have so inspired my own journey in medicine can find their way into the hearts and minds of an ever-broader audience. The same humility and inspiration that flows from Tracy Kidder’s pages infuses each scene of the film and if not quite the proverbial 1000x times magnification powerfully spreads the message PIH has been attempting to convey for almost 4 decades perhaps most notably by giving on an enormous stage a face to those who have long been rendered invisible by the forces of biocapital and investment priorities.