Hot Docs 2023 Review: The Only Doctor

by Andrew Parker

Heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure, director Matthew Hashiguchi’s documentary The Only Doctor exposes not only a myriad of failings in the American healthcare system, but also how something meant as a supposedly equitable solution could be creating more barriers to access than it tears down.

In Clay County, Georgia, one of the poorest counties in the state, Dr. Karen Kinsell is the only doctor for miles around, with the closest hospital forty miles away, across the Alabama border. Her offices in Fort Gaines – which was once a Tastee-Freez – are falling apart, with termites in the walls, a drop ceiling slowly caving in under the weight of water damage, and posters hung up to disguise holes in the wood panelled walls. But for the county’s largely uninsured and impoverished population, Dr. Kinsell is their only care provider. Basically an unpaid volunteer, the New York native – who subsidizes her practice and charity via a swiftly dwindling inheritance – has to be a expert in every ailment possible. Dr. Kinsell’s practice is threatened by the construction and impending opening of a university run medical campus, which likely won’t offer the rock bottom co-pays and deferrals so many of her patients need to seek out treatment.

The Only Doctor is a powerful call for reform and meaningful changes to a broken system, and also a profile in honest, unwavering courage. In Dr. Kinsell’s refusal to give up her practice, Hasighuchi has found a perfect avatar for grassroots community advocacy, and the ways that a single person’s vision can be more humane and thoughtful than the best intentions of a large corporation blowing in on false winds promising change, but offering only a lot of hot air. 

Like the woman at the heart of the film, The Only Doctor never shies away from getting political, and unlike many other recent documentaries, this film is a case where the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only bolsters the points being made rather than distracting from them. It will leave viewers equally upset that something like this could happen, but also highly endeared to the spirit of a person willing to do everything in their power to reverse the course of institutional neglect.

Thursday, April 27, 2023 – 5:30 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Wednesday, May 3, 2023 – 11:30 am – Scotiabank Theatre 5

The Only Doctor will be available to stream across Canada via Hot Docs from May 5 to 9, 2023.


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