Helen van Horne, the good doctor, has left her solitary practice as a physician in rural East Africa to become chief of the Department of Medicine at City Hospital. She is a tough, hard-as-nails woman who has given up the comforts of marriage, family, and human indiscretion for her profession. While the folks in South Bronx initially "hate" her because of her skin color, they soon learn that van Horne is a model of rectitude, dedication, and compassion. The Hispanic chief resident becomes her disciple.

Van Horne's yearning for human comfort and sexual gratification brings her into intimate contact with a lazy, irresponsible, but charming male student. Out of weakness, she tells the failing student that he will pass the rotation, but is later challenged by the chief resident, who has left her own lazy husband and dedicated herself to be "just like you." Van Horne realizes her own weakness, allows the failing grade to be recorded, then contemplates (but rejects) suicide.


This is a wonderful story that illuminates the moral dimension of professionalism, and places it in the context of a complicated, but virtuous, character. The story also explores the question of sexual contact (harassment?) between teachers and students. Helen van Horne's trenchant, but sad, final comment, as she decides to face continued life rather than to end it, is "The men . . . do it all the time."

Primary Source

The Good Doctor


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa



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