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Unexpected Intimacies

An Exploration of the Physician–Patient Relationship during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kelly Colas


Anthropologists examining the relationship between physician and patient in Western biomedicine have observed an inherent power discrepancy between the physician, assumed to hold scientific knowledge, and the patient, the recipient of this knowledge. COVID-19 presents a unique challenge to that dynamic, as physicians, scientists and medical experts possess limited understanding of the pathophysiology, interventions and treatment of the disease. Drawing on my experience as a resident physician on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, I contend that the absence of knowledge surrounding COVID-19 fosters a new form of intimacy between physician and patient through greater emphasis on subjective patient experience, increased transparency between physician and patient, and an expanding physician role beyond management of the physical disease state.