Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

A Physician, a Zombie, and a Patient Walk into a Bar


We are more like zombies than you might think. This fact reminds us that we should be able to find commonalities with all of our patients and colleagues. Happy Halloween!

This is a piece on what I learned at the DotMD conference, the “Festival of Medical Curiosity,” in Galway, Ireland. This is a conference focused on how medicine can be explored using a creative approach. 


“A physician, a zombie, and a patient walk into a bar . . . ”


I won’t ruin the punch line of Dr. Steve Schlozman’s talk, but I will say that the remainder of his presentation left me excited to apply zombie principles to my day-to-day practice.


Dr. Schlozman, in addition to working as a practicing psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University, is also a writer and zombie aficionado.


He reminded us that we need to stop thinking like doctors. The doctor, the zombie, and the patient are all people. If we blur the lines that we draw to categorize patients, healthcare practitioners, and the undead, we are better able to empathize with, connect with, and ultimately provide better care for our patients.


Dr. Schlozman uses this analogy with his medical students. In creating a disease calls “Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome”—artfully encompassing all of the qualities that explain why zombies are the way they are—he uses the zombie condition as a tool to help clinicians acknowledge and recognize their biases.


Humans are hard-wired to connect with one another. Clinicians have the unique opportunity to establish relationships with patients and their families—relationships that are founded on compassion, empathy, and trust.


After Dr. Schlozman’s presentation, I realized that we’ve got more in common with zombies than perhaps the movies lead us to believe. It is our commonalities, rather than our differences, which we must seek to provide excellent care.