Patch Adams Leadership Qualities


The movie, Patch Adams, (Universal Studios, 1998) is based on the life a Dr. Patch Adams. A man who believes that “the most revolutionary act one can commit in our world is to be happy.” (from his biography on Famous comedian, Robin Williams, plays the role very well. The film begins in a mental institution and follows Patch through a series of events which lead him to discover his vision for life – to help people. This in turn eventually brings him to medical school – the central focus of the film. During this time he spends many hours in the hospital working with patients on their health situations – this includes both medical and emotional needs. His desire to “treat the
patient rather than just their condition” lands him in the direct line of fire of the dean of the school and in a climactic moment, Patch is vindicated by the school board in front of all the people who were closest to him – his classmates, school faculty, hospital nurses and patients, and many others. In the film Patch has a vision for a free hospital and in real life, we see that
this vision has become true. He now serves as the founder and director of the Gesundheit Institue which has offered free medical care to over 15,000 people over the years. He combines his medical training and his experiences as a street clown to understand the relationship between laughter and therapy, and serves others by taking “clown tours” of hospitals and orphanages each year in Russia. (all personal information is from his biography on Patch is the kind of man that anyone and everyone can learn something from.

Patch is the epitome of good leadership. He was a man (1) with well-rounded character, (2) was good at making and keeping relationships with
people, (3) had a vision for what his purpose was in becoming a doctor, and (4) had the skills to accomplish it. We
will seek to demonstrate each of these qualities using scenes from the film.


If only one positive thing could be said of Patch Adams, it would have to be something concerning his character. A careful viewing of the film and study of his character reveals that it is almost impossible to find any kind of character flaws. Patch was pure in his intentions and he did not let anything get in the way of his drive for helping others. The only real character flaw in Patch was his blatant disregard for authority. However, what is interesting about this flaw is that it was always for the better. He broke the law or the rules of the school so that he could go and help people. As
mentioned before, he did not let anything get in the way of his passion to help others.

When first introduced to Patch, he is in a mental hospital – self-admitted because he had tried to commit suicide. While he was in the mental hospital, he was searching for help for himself but ended up
helping others with their problems. He had a unique personality which allowed him to love others greatly, especially his roommate in the mental hospital. To help his roommate get over his fear, Patch acted like he was shooting all of the imaginary squirrels in the room so his friend could go to the restroom. By being real with his roommate and others in the mental hospital, he helped them
with their problems and later in the movie, we see his roommate at Patch’s graduation from Medical School. What he did with his roommate had a lasting effect and Patch was passionate about helping others in the same way. It was in the mental hospital that he figured out what he was going to do (a vision) with his life. So, he went to Medical School.

Patch was an extremely diligent worker. He was one of the top in his class and yet it seemed like he hardly ever studied. He was always over at the hospital playing with the patients to improve their state of being. However, he told Carin that he had read the whole Biology book, which any college student knows is crazy. He obviously studied a lot since he was among the top in his class at the Medical College.

Another gold star on Patch’s character report is his honesty. When he told the Dr. at the mental hospital what he was going to do with his life and the Dr. defended himself by saying that is what he did, Patch told him outright that the Dr. sucked at it. Also, when Patch was accused of cheating by one of his classmates, he went straight to the student and confronted him about it. Patch told his classmate exactly what he thought of him and told him that in spite of the situation, he didn’t hate him. It might come as a shock that this extremely gentle and loving guy would have the boldness to be blatantly honest, but this extreme integrity and honest actually endears him to the audience. A couple of other confrontations within movie continue to do so.

Patch’s integrity is almost untouchable. His passion for his life was to help as many people as he could at any cost. That even meant buying a ranch house and opening it up to people who could not afford health care and could not be admitted into the hospital. He opened up his house to them and even had his friends help in building up this “free hospital”. He and his best friend in the college went around town looking for people who needed help and brought them back to the house to help them. Even with the threat of being kicked out of the college for “practicing medicine illegally without a license,” Patch stood his ground for what he was doing by explaining the operation of the free hospital. He was breaking the law technically, but Patch’s integrity, good grades, and “excessive happiness” had persuaded the College Board to allow him to stay in college. One of the biggest struggles and test of integrity for Patch was intertwined with this free hospital he was in
charge of as the love of his life was murdered by one of the patients when she went to help him. He was ready to give it all up because this had happened. But in the end, he stayed with the hospital and stuck to his vision of helping people.


In talking about the theme of this movie, it seems to involve looking at the simple view of humans and their emotions, instead of their ailments. In so doing, the movie expresses how people tend to produce defense mechanisms or even a cure to their ailments. No one else could have played this role as well as Robin Williams did. Not only was he very funny through out the movie, but he also captured the audience with the deep rooted problem that medical practice seems to miss. He touched people’s lives with his funny antics and his lively character, showing human concern and compassion; something not seen in the medical field in the movie. Patch Adams received his nickname (and identity) as “Patch” due to a moment where he patches another patient’s cup. He finds himself
fighting an uphill battle as he faces different obstacles – including the dean of the university who tried to have him expelled from the school. Patch wins over most of his peers by his uncompromising faith in what he believed, and at the end he makes everyone a believer in his ideas.

Patch Adams is inspired to continue in this line of helping others as he did with the patient’s cup. His vision becomes clear to him due to the response he received from the patient and also of how he learned a principle that had been previously alien to him. He was shown how not to look at the problem but to look past the problem. The answer obviously is not the problem but beyond the scope of the problem. Interestingly, enough Patch begins pursuing his vision of helping people by going through medical school to become a doctor; he starts off being unpopular with the immediate crowd because of his vision and his non-conformity. Through many situations of treating patients with an uncanny effort of concern and compassion for them, he wins over the staff of the hospital and eventually his own colleagues. By going about and living up to his ideas and beliefs Patch succeeded in convincing others to believe in his views. Even the most adamant of his peers, finally breaks down and sees the value of his labor. The proof of his efforts makes the difference in the movie because people around him approve of his work.

Adam’s represents the epitome of relational leadership. Patch exemplifies what
leaders should first do before assuming a leadership role. Patch began by
practicing his ideas in his view of treating patients. He modeled his vision
and convinced people to believe in his ideas. His peers even began to join and
help him with his techniques and succeed in demonstrating how his ideas were
effective. His ideas involved sacrifice and time which was valuable to a student
attending this university. Patch became
a household name because of his charitable and compassionate disposition. He
got to know many people on all levels of life; he listened to many people and
helped them all. Even if the patient was beyond help of his or her aliment,
Patch was committed to making their last days as comfortable as possible. Patch
appreciated the simple things in life and this was reflected on his peers and


In addition to his character and relationships, Patch is
a great example of a leader due to his clear vision. This vision propelled him
to accomplish much and fueled others to come along side him and join in these
efforts. In his book Visioneering, Andy Stanley shares that vision is not just
something that “could” be, but also something that “should” be. (Andy Stanley,
Visioneering, pg 17, 1999, Multnomah Publishers, Inc.) Patch’s vision was no
exception. While in a mental institution, Patch discovered both his vision and
his identity. Another patient called
him “Patch” when he fixed his cup. With
this new identity, and the realization that the doctors in the institution were
incapable of helping others, his vision was born – to help people. Not only “could” people be helped, but in
the situation that he found himself in, they “should” be helped. Something had to be done. This fueled everything within Patch. It motivated him to become a medical student,
but even more, to question the practices which had become the norm among

experience helped him to solidify this vision. As described before Patch helped his roommate pee, by pretending to
shoot some imaginary squirrels. It may
have seemed like an insignificant accomplishment, but on the heels of his
realization about his identity and vision, it was huge! It was the small success story that Patch
needed to help him believe he could accomplish this vision of helping
people. It was the very next morning
that he began his journey to become a doctor by checking himself out of the
mental institution.

requires much more than just an idea about what could and should happen though.
A true vision motivates one to go through trials. Patch gained an understanding from a character named Arthur
Mendelsonn in another scene in the mental institution. Arthur, who has some clear psychopathic
behaviors, is running through the ward holding up four fingers and asking
people to tell him how many he is holding up. When they say “Four,” he gets upset with them and says that they all
have small brains. In a tender moment
after Arthur first calls him “Patch,” he explains that there are four when you
look at the problem, but if you look past it to the solution, you see eight
(each eye sees four). This concept is vital to understanding vision. Any vision
worth striving for will come up against some opposition, and if we are able to
look past the problem to the solution – to focus on the vision rather than the
problem, we’ll be able to persevere and eventually succeed. There’s one
particular scene where Patch is coming up against the dean of his medical
school, where this proves to be true. Patch is able to see beyond the dean, to the vision of becoming a

last incident in Patch’s life illustrates his quest/readiness for his vision –
to help people. Patch has a strong
imagination, and while eating in a little diner, he starts playing with the
things on the table: a napkin dispenser, ketchup bottle, etc. He sees more than these items though. Patch sees a building, a “new kind of
hospital.” Men of vision, like Patch,
are able to see what others can’t see. They look through a lens of vision which allows them to notice things
differently and apply situations to their vision that others would not have
seen. Men of vision are consumed by
their vision and so they’re always on the lookout for new or better ways to
accomplish it.


For any leader, skills are a necessary thing to have in
order to lead in the field in which they are a part of. Patch was skilled in many things, but his
abilities in the area of study, medicine, and relationships are standouts.

There were tensions in the movie between Patch and his
classmates because of his ability to make time for his relationships and still
be able to study the material thoroughly. His study habits were so good, that he was able to graduate near the top
of his class. He, when talking with
another student about studying, even mentioned that he had already read the
entire biology book. His skills at
being a good doctor/medical school student did not come easily, but as a result
of hard work, and more than likely, frequent long nights without much

His excellent skills at being a medical student were
shown in his grades, but as well as with the people he was able to treat. He treated his patients with laughter and
love, but he also treated them with the knowledge he obtained at medical
school. His patients had an
overwhelming recovery rate (though not clearly shown, it was implied in the
movie) or improved level of living. His
patients did not seem to doubt his ability to take care of them. He was able to identify a medical problem
with relative ease, but was not afraid or ashamed to ask for help when he did
not have a solution to a problem or if he did not know how to handle a situation
he was in. When faced with the
possibility of being dismissed from medical school due to “excessive joy,” he
went to a person that would know exactly what would need to be done.

As mentioned before, when he was faced with the
possibility of being forced out of medical school, he had to go in front of a
school board for review. His actions
were reviewed, but also his grades were under the microscope. These grades are a direct reflection of his
skills or abilities to perform as a student and as a doctor. The board decided not to remove him from
school, in part, because of his excellent grades. His grades were on a consistent basis near top of his entire
class. If there was any doubt in his
ability to be a good doctor, it could not have come from his grades.

One skill he had that many of the other students at the
school lacked was the skill to communicate in a joyful way to people. The majority of his peers did not refer to
patients by their names, but by their assigned bed or room. Just knowing someone’s name made the
difference for his patients. He even
went beyond that and got to know the person’s likes and dislikes. When he listened, he also remembered what was
said to him.

These scenes help in understanding that this skill
(memory, or heart-felt memory) is an amazing ability. Remembering such things as people’s desires comes as a result of
hard work – it is intentional work. Patch excelled at remembering what people said. This helps any leader in building
relationships with other people. When
trying to gain the trust of followers, a leaders who remembers his follower’s
visions and dreams, is more able to help them accomplish their personal goals
while still being able to lead them to accomplish the vision for the
group. Patch did this with many of his
patients. He helped them to fulfill
some life-long dreams before they left this life.

Some skills, people are born with. Some would call these gifts rather than
skills, but nonetheless, they help people accomplish their goals as leaders. Patch, whether born with it or if he worked
for it, he certainly had the skill of listening. He talked quite a bit, but listening to the people Patch talked
with, helped him lead. He may not have
been able to read body language, but when people spoke, he was able to
listen. He used this skill to aid his
other skill of remembering other people’s desires. Patch had many other skills too: getting tasks accomplished, relationships,
laughter, and others. His skills helped
him lead in altering the medical field forever.


When it comes to leaders, it is difficult
to find one that compares to Patch Adams. He had his faults like all leaders do, but his outstanding leadership
qualities overshadow them in most situations. Patch was a leader with character that would impress angels. His developed deep relationships and through
them was able to impact many lives. His
vision to help people by offering free medical care was unheard of, but it was
a vision that he was able to influence others to take part of. His skills in the medical profession were
hard to match.

All of his leadership qualities were
established through his personal pilgrimage through his life. He was able to discover his identity in
helping others, what his integrity would be like because of the lack of
integrity around him, his ability to be intimate through close relationships
with people seen as outcasts, and his intensity to help others through their
problems. He was a leader’s leader. His persona and enthusiasm was contagious. He never forgot his past, but always looked
toward the future. He had a goal to not
focus on problems, but to look past them in order to overcome them. Patch Adams – the leader’s leader in the
medical world.

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