In this collection, twenty-two medical students and young physicians across the United States eloquently recount the process of medical education for those who do not believe they fit standard measures of student demographics. The editors, Takakuwa, an emergency medicine resident physician; Rubashkin, a medical student; and Herzig, who holds a doctorate in health psychology, group the essays into three sections: Life and Family Histories, Shifting Identities, and Confronted.

Each section is prefaced by an essay explicating the essay selection process, the history of medical school admissions policies and requirements, the basic progression of medical education and the reasons for this collection, such as "putting a human face" (p. xx) on the changing characteristics of admitted medical students: "With their diversity and through their self-reflections, we hope that these students will bring new gifts and insights to the practice of medicine and that they might one day play an important role in transforming American medical education into a fairer and more responsive system." (p. 141)

Additionally, a foreword by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders outlines her experience as a black woman entering medical school in 1956, including eating in the segregated cafeteria. The book concludes with recommendations for further reading and improvements to the medical education process as well as with brief biographies of the contributors and editors.

The range of essays is impressive: diversity itself is given a new meaning by the variety of narrative voices in this volume. Contributors include people from impoverished backgrounds, both immigrant (Vietnamese, Mexican) and not. One student, marginalized by his academic difficulties, began a homeless existence during his first clinical year. Others were made to feel different because of being African or Native American.

In two essays, mothers defy labels placed on them (pregnant black teen; lesbian) and describe the trials and triumphs of their situations. Students write of being subjected to ridicule, ignorance and prejudice due to their gender, interest in complementary medicine, political and advocacy views, or religious beliefs. Due to pressures to conform, even students from what might be considered more mainstream in American culture (e.g., growing up in a small town, or being Christian) can experience the effects of being "different" when in medical school.

A number of essays communicate the difficulties of illness, disability and bodily differences. Issues include recovered alcoholism (rather tellingly, this is the only essay that is anonymous), obsessive compulsive disorder, sickle cell anemia, Tourette Disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic pain, and obesity. The authors balance their narratives of hardship with insights into how their struggles improve their opportunities for empathy, perspective and fulfillment as physicians.


The stories of these young physicians are compelling. The tone is never whining, longwinded nor ranting; rather, the essays are clearly written, honest and often poignant. The editors succeed in featuring a variety of voices in a cohesive, eminently readable compilation. The book is an excellent reminder that the doctor-patient relationship is a deeply human encounter--and that not only the patient, but also the physician, brings to the relationship an individual story filled and nuanced with life experience.



Univ. of California Press

Place Published





Kevin M. Takakuwa, Nick Rubashkin & Karen E. Herzig

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