New perspective

PHHP alumnus helps medical students see through the eyes of patients

The idea for the medical student documentary film project came to Dan Shapiro, Ph.D., when he was editing video from a family vacation.

Dr. Dan Shapiro. Photo by Maria Belen Farias.

“As I was editing I saw a lot of little things that I hadn’t noticed while I was living the trip,” he told the audience at the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series talk Sept. 14.

Shapiro, a 1994 graduate of UF’s clinical and health psychology doctoral program, is the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Professor of Medical Humanism and the chair of the department of humanities at Penn State University’s College of Medicine.

While on faculty at the University of Arizona, Shapiro developed the film project “Video Slam” to help medical students capture those aspects of the patient experience that they might not see in clinic encounters. Students record dozens of hours of footage of individual patients and their families at home, at clinical appointments and throughout the course of their daily lives. Students are asked to pay particular attention to issues like disease impact, treatment adherence, financial impact and innovative adaptations by patients or caregivers. The resulting 7- to 10-minute films are moving portrayals of the lives of children and adults with cystic fibrosis, neuromuscular disease, AIDS, Type 1 diabetes and cancer, to name a few. Shapiro has since brought the Video Slam program to Penn State where 70 students annually apply for the opportunity to produce a patient documentary. Their films are in use in medical schools around the country, including UF’s College of Medicine.

As a cancer survivor Shapiro is in a unique position to help physicians in training understand the patient experience. His memoir “Mom’s Marijuana,” which details his personal cancer experience, is required reading at many medical schools. His second book, “Delivering Doctor Amelia,” focuses on Shapiro’s psychological treatment of a physician. His writings about the patient experience and physician-patient relationships have appeared in The New York Times, the Journal of the American Medical Association,, and Academic Medicine, and have been featured on “The Today Show.” Shapiro is also a regular weekly consultant to the television shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.” 

For more information on Video Slam and to view the medical students’ documentaries, visit

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