- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Jan-17-2006
This collection of stories describes "a medical student's journey" (the subtitle) through the difficult terrain of clinical education. In Audrey Young's case, this is also a geographical odyssey from Seattle to Swaziland to Pocatello, Idaho, as she completes her University of Washington clinical rotations and electives. In one sense the main characters of these narratives are the patients the author encounters in clinics and hospitals. As she writes in the Preface, "Patients teach things that the wisest and most revered physicians cannot, and their lessons are in this book."
In another sense, of course, Dr. Young herself is the central character of these stories; this is an account of her journey into doctoring. The author first takes us to Bethel, a Yupik Eskimo town on the Bering seacoast of Alaska, where she had her initiation into clinical experiences in the form of a summer preceptorship. There she learns that patients are far different from textbook examples, as she confronts the social and cultural factors that influence illness and its amenability to treatment. We follow the author to assignments throughout the WWAMI network. WWAMI is the University of Washington's decentralized clinical training program (Wyoming, Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho).
In Spokane she delivers a baby for the first time, supervised by an opera-loving attending physician. In Pocatello she takes care of her first critically ill neonate. In Missoula her life becomes "one of resigned solitude" in her internal medicine clerkship, where she experiences sleep deprivation and experiences sunlight only "through dusty windows."
During her fourth year, the author finds herself treating desperately ill AIDS patients without a supervising physician (he had gone to Zaire for a funeral and might be back the following week) and also without anti-retroviral drugs. However, it is in Swaziland that she learns the deep power and dignity of medicine, as exemplified by a patient who invites her to a dinner in her honor that requires killing one of his precious chickens.