The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death

The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death

By the time most of us meet our doctors, they’ve been in practice for a number of years. Often they seem aloof, uncaring, and hurried. Of course, they’re not all like that, and most didn’t start out that way. Here are voices of third-year students just as they begin to take on clinical responsibilities. Their words focus on the odd transition students face when they must deal with real people in real time and in real crises and when they must learn to put aside their emotions to make quick, accurate, and sensitive decisions. Their decisions aren’t always right, and the consequences can be life-altering-for all involved. Moving, disturbing, and candid, their true stories show us a side of the profession that few ever see, or could even imagine. They show, often painfully, how medical students grow up, right at the bedside.

As Groopman states in his foreword, “each interaction between a doctor and a patient is a story.” The moving stories of 44 doctors-in-training collected by two M.D.s (Pories and Harper) and one medical student (Jain), all at Harvard, are accounts written by medical students. Their tales convey lessons both emotional and medical, from learning how to communicate and empathize with those afflicted by illness to ways to ease suffering and loss. In one heartrending incident, David Y. Hwang describes a marine’s rage followed by tears on hearing that his wife was going to die, while the wife herself remains in calm denial. Rajesh G. Shah explores how he learned from his first patient to overcome his judgmental attitude about those so beset by anxiety they cannot function without medication. In a particularly self-revelatory (and anonymous) piece, a student describes the endless hazing experience at the hands of interns and residents and the student’s need to constantly manage a sense of insecurity. These are thoughtful and illuminating accounts of beginning physicians under stress, growing and changing as they progress through their chosen field. (June 2)
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