In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 10, 2016

‘Side Effects’ Play Examines What it Means to Be a Doctor in America

By In the Loop

Michael Milligan’s play, ‘Side Effects’ examines “what it means to be a doctor in America" today and will be performed on Thursday, Nov. 17, in Geffen Auditorium on Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus.As he crisscrossed the country for four years to promote and perform his one-man play, Mercy Killers, for health care advocacy groups, playwright Michael Milligan often found himself spending quality time with health care providers — but not because he was ill. "To keep costs low, local organizers would house me and drive me around," he says. "More often than not, my hosts have been nurses and doctors."

The experience opened the doors for many deep and personal conversations. "After exhausting ourselves discussing health care policy, we naturally began to share more about our own experiences," Milligan says. What he began to notice was that those health care providers seemed to have "similar complaints and frustrations" about the challenges they face in trying to provide the best care to their patients while being beholden to what Milligan calls "the byzantine and time consuming ritual" of billing and coding. 

"Once they got started, the stories would just pour out," he says. "I got the sense they were desperate for someone to listen to them." Milligan decided he wanted to be that someone. And he wanted to give voice to the concerns and experiences of doctors and nurses. To make that happen, he began to interview providers on the front lines.

Throughout that process, Milligan says there was one story that stood out from the rest. A doctor described an experience in which a patient whose wife had passed away stopped to see him on a busy day. But the doctor "felt so burned out that he didn't want to speak to the man," Milligan says. "So the nurse sent him away." The doctor told Milligan that later that evening, he felt "devastated" by what had happened. "This experience led the doctor to examine his life and transform his practice," Milligan says. "Something about that story touched me very deeply."

It also ultimately served as the inspiration for Milligan's latest play, "Side Effects," which examines the "side effects of practicing medicine" as well as "what it means to be a doctor in America" today. "I have deep admiration for doctors and nurses, and since spending so much time with them, have developed a great deal of empathy for their predicament," he says. He hopes the play can "provide a bit of catharsis" and "remind providers that they are not alone," Milligan tells us.

You can watch the story unfold for yourself when Milligan brings "Side Effects" to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus on Nov. 17. Presented by the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine, Milligan’s performance will be at 6 p.m. in Geffen Auditorium in the Gonda Building, Subway Level. The play is open to Mayo staff, students, patients, visitors and the public. For more information, or to reserve your seat, contact the Center for Humanities in Medicine at or call 507-284-5266.

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Tags: Community, Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine, Michael Milligan, Practice story, Theater

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