The description on the cover of this collection of essays states that it is "candid firsthand accounts of the profound experiences that transform medical students into doctors". It is edited by a woman breast surgeon (Susan Pories) who teaches students in the Harvard Medical School Patient-Doctor Course; a MD/MBA candidate (Sachin Jain) who anticipates a career as a clinician , scholar and activist; and a psychiatrist (Gordon Harper) who is director of the Patient-Doctor III course at Harvard. The short forward is by physician-writer Jerome Groopman. The 44 essays are divided into sections by theme: Communication, Empathy, Easing Suffering and Loss, and Finding a Better Way. I found it helpful to read the short biographies of each student in the back of the book, before reading that student's essay.

The diversity of the essayists is very wide which makes for a broad look at many important issues. There are several subjects that we tend to avoid (student response to the nude body, the presence of students when end of life decisions are being made, the tensions between caring for a patient and having to do something which causes pain, trying to think of patients a people as well as complex biomedical problems). One of the editors wishes that the book will help people understand the working of the hospital and the many ways in which new doctors learn. The book is certainly a personal look at the teaching hospital from the students' view.


As with many collections written by different persons and about different subjects it is difficult to make an overall evaluation. There is so much difference in approach, background of the writers and level of their experience. I came away from reading it with a good feeling that it is possible to provide a good environment for learning in most medical settings, but being unable say that any of the essays were particularly memorable. It resembled the feeling I have after reading a set of papers from one of my medical humanities classes.


Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Workman)

Place Published

New York




Susan Pories, Sachin H. Jain & Gordon Harper

Page Count