Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

Paul Ashdown


This thesis documents an investigation into the literary genre of physician autopathography-physician-authored autobiographical accounts of personal experience with illness/disease, injury or disability. At a general level, it explores potential explanations for the growth of this genre over the last 25 years. In addition, it compiles the first known bibliography of physician autopathography. At a more detailed level, through comprehensive thematic analysis of nine selected autopathographies on cancer, this thesis provides the foundation for a taxonomy to capture the manner in which the physician authors respond to the illness experience across their dual roles of patient and doctor. Three main categories are revealed and elaborated. Five authors are high-doctor/low-patient (DOCTOR/patient), four are high-doctor/high-patient (DOCTOR/PATIENT), and one is low-doctor/high-patient (doctor/PATIENT). The DOCTOR/patients cling fast to the doctor role. They are least accepting of the necessary transition to patienthood and most vocally rebel against it. They maintain an active, authoritative physician persona throughout their experience with cancer. The DOCTOR/PATIENTS position themselves with one foot on each side of the so-called dividing line between the physician role and the patient role. Their illness is met with resistance because of their status as physicians, but they are also more willing or able than the DOCTOR/patients to accept the vulnerabilities the transformation to patient brings. The doctor/PATIENTS show only vestiges of the physician role in the experience of illness. They are the most accepting of the patient’s passive status and demonstrate the smoothest transition from the role of doctor to that of patient.

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