JMU professor: Women use rhetoric to restore patient credibility

James Madison University jmuAs the issue of uneven access to quality care rapidly increases, individuals belonging to marginalized groups face even greater obstacles to their healthcare.

A JMU professor is studying how women can utilize the power of rhetoric to restore patient credibility and take control of their own health.

“There are many accounts of individuals receiving inappropriate or inadequate care due to erroneous assumptions about their mental health status,” said Dr. Cathryn Molloy, a professor of writing, rhetoric and communication.

“It is dauntingly common to be wrongly diagnosed as having symptoms that are ‘in your head’ — especially if you are a woman.”

As a rhetorician of health and medicine, Molloy studies the ways that stigmatized patients consciously and subconsciously use rhetoric to rebuild their credibility after being unfairly doubted due to demographic factors.

Her newest book, Rhetorical Ethos in Health Medicine: Patient Credibility, Stigma, and Misdiagnosis, explores rhetorical ethos and its ongoing role in misdiagnoses stemming from gender, race and class-based biases.

Extending work on ethos in clinical encounters and public discourse about biomedicine, the book explores how bias in clinical settings can lead to symptoms labelled “in the patient’s head” masking treatable medical problems.


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