In his six 1983 lectures published under the title, Fearless Speech (2001), Michel Foucault developed the theme of free speech and its relation to frankness, truth-telling, criticism, and duty. Derived from the ancient Greek word parrhesia, Foucault’s analysis of free speech is relevant to the mentoring of medical students. This is especially true given the educational and social need to transform future physicians into able citizens who practice a fearless freedom of expression on behalf of their patients, the public, the medical profession, and themselves in the public and political arena.
In this paper, we argue that Foucault’s understanding of free speech, or parrhesia, should be read as an ethical response to the American Medical Association’s recent educational effort, Initiative to Transform Medical Education (ITME): Recommendations for change in the system of medical education (2007). In this document, the American Medical Association identifies gaps in medical education, emphasizing the need to enhance health system safety and quality, to improve education in training institutions, and to address the inadequacy of physician preparedness in new content areas. These gaps, and their relationship to the ITME goal of promoting excellence in patient care by implementing reform in the US system of medical education, call for a serious consideration and use of Foucault’s parrhesia in the way that medical students are trained and mentored.