This Side of Doctoring is an anthology published in 2002 about the experiences of women in medicine. While the essays span multiple centuries, most are from the past 50 years. They reflect on a multitude of stages in the authors’ personal and professional lives. In 344 pages divided into twelve sections, including "Early Pioneers," "Life in the Trenches," and "Mothering and Doctoring," the 146 authors recount - in excerpts from published memoirs, previously published and unpublished essays, poems and other writings, many of them composed solely for this collection - what it was then and what it was in 2002 to be a woman becoming a doctor in the U.S.. All but a handful of the authors are physicians or surgeons. There is a heavy representation from institutions on both coasts, especially the Northeast. Four men were invited to reflect on being married to physician wives. There is one anonymous essay concerning sexual harassment and a final essay from a mother and daughter, both physicians.   Beginning with the first American female physicians in the mid-19th century, like historic ground-breakers Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi, the anthology proceeds through the phases of medical school, residency, early and mid-careers, up to reflections from older physicians on a life spent in medicine. Many of the authors have names well known in the medical humanities, including Marcia Angell, Leon Eisenberg, Perri Klass, Danielle Ofri, Audrey Shafer, and Marjorie Spurrier Sirridge, to mention a few. 

The essays and poems and letters have, as a partial listing, the following subjects: family influences in becoming a physician; professional friendships; marriage; children and their impact on a woman’s career in medicine; the decision not to have children; ill family members; illness as a physician; establishing one's sexuality as a physician; struggles with male physicians and their egos; mentors, both female and male; memorable patients (often terminal or dying); the life of a wife-physician, or mother-physician; the guilt and sacrifice that accompany such a dual life; the importance - and easy loss - of personal time or what internist Catherine Chang calls “self-care” (page 334).
  The anthology also touches on how women have changed the practice of medicine in various ways, prompted by the growing realization, as family practice physician Alison Moll puts it, "that I didn't have to practice in the traditional way" (page 185)  The authors write about the wisdom of setting limits; training or working part-time or sharing a position with another woman; and the constant face-off with decisions, especially those not normally confronting an American man becoming a doctor. 
One conclusion is evident before the reader is halfway through the book: there are many approaches to becoming a fulfilled female physician including finding one’s identity in the field.  Implicit in most of the essays and writings is the lament from obstetrician-gynecologist Gayle Shore Mayer: "Where is the self ? There are pieces of me everywhere", (page 275) recalling a similar cry from Virginia Woolf's Orlando, another essentially female soul trying to find what Richard Selzer has called "The Exact Location of the Soul".
 Several authors discover that female physicians have unique gifts to offer their patients. As internist Rebekah Wang-Cheng writes, “I am a better physician because I am a mother, and I know because of my experiences as a physician that I am a better mother.” (page 151) 

There are sections at the end devoted to a glossary for the lay reader, resources for women (as of 2002), and generous notes about the contributors (which section also serves as a useful index of each's contributions).


It was a treat and a privilege to be able to read an anthology so well conceived, so well executed and so well edited. More, it was remarkable to be allowed to enter the private lives that illuminate the oft-times shamefully difficult roads women have had to traverse for so long to become medical doctors. As someone who married, 46 years ago, a female classmate at Columbia University's Physicians & Surgeons (which has many authors in this collection), I was shocked to read of neglect, abuse, disregard, intentional barriers and unprofessional conduct at the hands of their male counterparts or superiors, treatment my wife and I fortunately did not have to encounter. 

Several of the essays are nothing if not bravely proffered. Consider the courageous story of a well known physician counseling a patient requesting an abortion she the physician can not provide since she was working, at the time, in an institution that did not "terminate pregnancies", as her superior told her. "Nor do we permit referrals to physicians who do." (page 119).  Following the description of this tension, the physician shares with the reader her own, less well known, story of her abortion many years earlier.  Another prominent physician bares the emotional process leading to the rational decision not to have children and the effects that decision has had on her life. Yet another physician describes the emotional torment of sexual harassment she endured as a medical student. This book shocks as often as it endears. The lasting sense, happily, is endearment, in part because of the extraordinarily generous and wise nature of the authors. It is a book I gladly gave my pediatric resident daughter last year. 

There are so many brightly patterned patches  - editor Chin calls this collection, and rightly so, a "richly textured" American quilt rather than an anthology - of excellence, of poignant descriptions, of memorable scenes that an annotator selects at one's peril. Nonetheless, here are a few.  Sondra Crosby's moving account (page 164) of what it is to be an American female internist watching her Sierra Leonese children navigate pediatric health care as patients was instructive for any physician reader with family, especially young family, who become patients. Likewise, nephrologist Dugan Weiss Maddux's description of her young family vis-à-vis spiders in their back yard with "spiderlings" (her seven year old's wonderful neologism for baby spiders) is nothing short of lovely. Pediatric resident Jennifer Hyde turns her chronically cold hands into a dramatic account of a patient's death. These are but one corner of the wonderful quilt of American women in medicine represented in this book. 

One can only hope that the talented writers above and others in this collection continue to write -  “Write in your journal. Keep a log of your time. Keep a journal of your stories. They are the vitamins which will help you grow as a person and as a professional. These stories are also a roadmap of where you have been and where you are going,” family practice doctor Beth Alexander writes on page 273 - and to contribute, along with Drs. Ofri and Shafer and other established physician-writers, to our knowledge of what it means to be a female physician in the U.S. When we read the likes of Emily Dunning Barringer (page 21) and Marion Hilliard (page 26) writing eloquently and proudly, almost 100 years ago, about themselves as pioneering American female clinicians, we can only lament the loss of earlier physician-writers who had their hands full just becoming talented physicians, much less the equally talented physician-writers they could also have become with more encouragement and acceptance. And time. 

This volume will serve as a rich repository of primary source material for students of every aspect of the medical humanities.  This Side of Doctoring should be required reading of ALL medical students during their first year. If one would wish for anything different or in addition to this book, it might be a successor to reflect the changing mores - one hopes - in medicine as women experience it today.


Oxford University Press

Place Published





Chin, Eliza Lo

Page Count

xxx + 396