Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Seeking inspiration for inspiration

We have a new first year class staring in two weeks. A colleague asked me to suggest something they might read about a physician to provide inspiration. We agreed that books about heroic doctors going to dangerous places were not suitable, but I couldn’t come up with anything else. I also realized that most doctor-heroes—at least the ones who inspire others to write about them—are men, often men motivated by religious faith or medical missionary zeal. The women doctors who have fascinated and inspired me all come from the pioneer period, when just going to medical school was itself an act of heroism. For this class, in which women are the majority, those kinds of accounts would likely seem quaint at best. Who inspired you? And who do you think might foster the spark in the class of 2014?


  1. This isn't a book so much ABOUT doctors, but Wit by Margaret Edson is really great. It's about a college professor's journey with ovarian cancer, and her relationship with one of her former students (now a medical student) is one of the most important themes. It's really short, maybe only 150 pages, and it's written as a play so it's a quick read.


    Dr. Numann is a modern-day pioneer. When I was a med student I was fortunate enough to have been in the OR with her once. She pimped me left and right and it was AWESOME.

    My mentor, Ann Botash, MD made something from nothing. As chief resident and junior faculty, she realized there was no way to systematically care for children who had been abused. From this came the CARE program and the development of the McMahon/Ryan Advocacy Site. She's also currently president of the Ray Helfer Society. She's a nationally recognized expert in her field. She's also a great friend and mentor.

    Look around you - the best examples of awesome women in medicine might not be that far.

  3. Can I ask why you want to exclude doctors who have worked overseas? Honestly, that was my inspiration for going into medical school and throughout.

    If you want women specifically, the first woman who springs to my mind is Dr. Lucille Teasdale-Corti, a Canadian surgeon (first woman in Quebec to become a surgeon, and in case you think this was in the "pioneer" period, it was actually in the 1950s). She founded a hospital in Uganda and stayed there throughout the whole turbulence of Idi Amin's reign and the aftermath. She died of HIV/AIDS which she contracted during surgery.

  4. I look up to three individuals, in particular: Dr. Norman Bethune, a prominent Canadian thoracic surgeon who rejected the ivory tower of medicine and fought against fascists and imperialists in WWII with his scalpel; Dr. Ben Carson, the head of Paediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, who had grown up as an impoverished African-American child within a single-mother family; Dr. Jane Poulson, who had lost her vision in the final year of medical school due to diabetic retinopathy yet proceeded to graduating and becoming a fully licensed, practising internist.

  5. Maybe "Joycelyn Elders, MD: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America" (haven't read it though)

    Or possibly "Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor" (Perri Klass)

    Not about women, but I enjoyed the stories in The "Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death" even as an attending reading it, but I was thinking about my students.

  6. What a great question to pose, Juliaink. I am thinking any woman (or man) starting medical school doesn't have a lot of extra reading time - I remember except for breaks it was like a black hole for me, focusing mostly on my studies. So I keyed in on two books to mention in case you haven't run across them.

    On Doctoring is a collection of poems, essays, and stories by women and men - many by literature greats - that opens with a short essay originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the 80's by Carola Eisenberg - her sentiments about looking at the profession from a standpoint of serving others rather than worrying about our own incomes with changes in health care is still very much applicable in today's society.

    I also received a book from a peer in residency called Women in Medicine - A Celebration of Their Work by Ted Grant and Sandy Carter. It is primarily image-based with a lot of nice quotes and a short history describing those antiquated pioneers (they still inspire me!) and how their efforts brought us the present. All of the images and most of the quotes are of women in medicine at work - it is definitely slanted toward physicians but also celebrates midwives, nurses, therapists, and other women in medicine. Most of the images were taken in modern hospital settings in the U.S. and Canada.

    My own first inspiration was my father, but having a strong female mentor attending while in residency meant more to me than reading about women in medicine. So I echo above - best examples of women in medicine are closest to us. I'll bet you provide that service to many of your students!

  7. When I started med school in 2008, we were all given a copy of On Doctoring.

  8. Not really about a physician per se, but Atul Gawande's "Five Rules" Commencement address for the Harvard Medical School Class of 2005 is incredibly inspiring. I read it and re-read it all the time:

  9. I also second the above:
    First: Perri Klass, she has the book stated above and "The Real life of a Pediatrician"

    Second: I also enjoyed "On Doctoring" - although it wasn't the page-turner that the above was.

  10. On Doctoring is a great one. The advantage is that you can read one or two sections at a time.

  11. Thanks y'all--I hadn't known about a lot of these people.
    BTW: I greatly admire docs who work internationally, but I do appreciate knowing about the people who are little closer to home.

  12. i third the peri klass recommendation. i literally read "first do no harm" in ONE sitting. i could not put it down. she writes so honestly and without all the ego that doctors often project. "Letters to a young doctor" was excellent as well.

  13. Atul Gawande's work is all good.

    Particular favourites are any of his New Yorker Articles see
    Personal Best is most recent and really good.

    Or his books:
    The Checklist Manifesto

  14. I'll join the others in recommending Perri Klass... I read her books in college and then had the pleasure of meeting her this year when she came to give Grand Rounds at our hospital.

    Not a physician, but inspiring nonetheless: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    Lisa Sander's "Every Patient Tells a Story"


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