Scripted

Adam Wilson, M1, Class of 2026

            I love theater. I participated in my high school’s drama club, and each year I go see a few plays and musicals in KC. There is something magical that happens on stage—human ingenuity creates dazzling sets, talented actors and actresses draw me into their worlds with wonderful performances, and beautiful music ferries me through the show. And when I was asked to come back to my high school to teach the tech crew how to operate the sound and light boards, of course I had to help.

            Returning to theater gives me a chance to reflect on what lessons and parallels I can draw. Most salient to me is the process by which characters are made legible (made comprehensible) on stage, and how I make myself legible to others by playing a script that others can understand based on notions of familiarity and acceptability. For example, in the case of many members of my former high school’s drama club, they must make themselves and their lives legible in a limited range of forms to access scholarships and better education on their college essays. I play the part of a medical student; therefore, I must play it adequately by exuding confidence and competence. If I were to falter at playing this part, I would expect some derision from my peers based on previous experiences of failing at playing my roles appropriately.

 “What have I done to myself to make myself more legible?” I often ask myself.

Adam Wilson, M1, CLass of 2026

“What have I done to myself to make myself more legible?” I often ask myself. What have I discarded, what traits have I tried to embody, and how have I changed as a result? I recently realized that in applying to medical schools just last year, I was compelled to make my struggles and my dreams legible to medical schools across the country. I felt like only certain forms of authenticity would be rewarded, and many would be looked down upon. I understand that writing application essays necessitates culling some things, but my process of culling was guided by the expectations that I envisioned these medical schools had for me. I worry about future applications too, such as for residency, because I hear and read about how applicants do not disclose their mental health status on applications for fear of being declined a spot.

            Beyond the utility of self-reflection, though, I think that reflecting upon scripts of legibility enables me to see disempowerment more keenly. Shapeshifters, by Aimee Meredith Cox, is an ethnography that discusses how young Black women in a Detroit homeless shelter navigate the choreography of politics of respectability and normativity. In the text, Cox describes redemption narratives as the primary mode by which these women gained the legibility that would enable financial support and productive responses from patrons of their shelter. Key to these narratives are the performances that require women to discard the authenticity of their past and leave behind any complaints of the society that facilitated their disempowerment. At least at this women’s shelter, a person was expected to blame themself alone for their situation to make themselves legible to an audience.

            Lastly, I believe that I can better understand people’s behavior and language in a clinical setting by examining scripts. Though my clinical experience is limited as an M1, I think that I have been exposed to some cases where people follow scripts, and cases where clinicians expect script-following behavior. One example of my exposure is Dr. Glaucomflecken’s series of video sketches on TikTok and YouTube about rural medicine, within which he presents the stereotype of rural farmers not often seeking help for their medical issues when they need it. The scripts that these rural farmers perform dictate the conditions in which they engage in health-seeking behavior. More generally, appropriate script-following behavior for a man, for example, may be to put off health-seeking behavior.

            On the clinician side of the relationship, I have read about how racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in pain management. I cannot adequately address the causes of why these might be here, but I think that some measure of the blame can be assigned to the way clinicians are taught how to read their patients’ experiences, thereby making their patients’ narratives legible. In my future as a physician, I will challenge myself to critically examine how patients present themselves according to scripts of legibility to seek help for their problems and imagine possibilities in which I may not be totally familiar with a patient’s use of a script.

            But what do you think? How do you see scripts limiting your self-expression, empowering your ability to navigate society, or disempowering it? I am interested in exploring how scripts are employed across the medical field and beyond.

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