White Coat Rebels was screened at the AFI Docs Film Festival.
Writer and director Greg Barker begins this brave and bold documentary with a gathering of the class of 2023 at Georgetown University Medical School as they recite the ancient Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm."
Whereas many ambitious students have chosen to don the "white coat" in order to receive a high income and the perks that accompany such a prestigious profession, others have set out to reform and transform America's health care system. These idealists experience first-hand the clout and corrupting influence of the pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) on the practice of medicine.
Medical students read about which drugs to prescribe in textbooks written by Big Pharma. Young doctors are inundated by samples, information conveyed by the media, and an unending stream of long-term studies of new drugs. Reps from the companies are trained to establish personal relationships with doctors to make them more open to their sales pitches. It's all part of a massive system that has made medicine a market not a health care provider.
White Coat Rebels, which had its world premiere at AFI Docs 2021, focuses on three crusaders who have used much of their time, energy, and smarts to do battle against Big Pharma and its money-making schemes. They see their work as an ethical imperative and a civil rights issue.
Three of these rebels are medical student Neda Ashtari, who is working from within the UCLA Medical School to challenge the university's partnership with private drug companies. She sees public policy changes as the priority. In Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress, she learns that Big Pharma spends $100 million a year on their lobbying.
Another change-maker is Dr. Michael Fine, Rhode Island's former Health Director, who has made it his mission to be an advocate for poor and marginalized communities who suffer terrible health problems because they cannot afford the healing and care they need.
Dr. Danielle Ofri works at New York's Bellevue Hospital. We follow her as she and her colleagues respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says, "It's our duty to speak about the inequalities."
While Big Pharma is already cashing in on the pandemic with its vaccines, the white coat rebels are demonstrating for free vaccines and putting "People Over Profits." These heroes of the medical profession are reshaping the techniques, goals, and practice of medicine.