Of course, doctors are human—and that, it follows from this book, explains why they’re so flawed, emotionally chewed-up, and laden with bias and prejudice.
Don’t get sick in summer. That’s one takeaway from this inquiry by British psychologist Elton, who looks at doctors on both sides of the Atlantic. In July in America and August in Britain, newly minted doctors take up their first jobs—and the mortality rate soars as they make rookie errors. “August is the cruelest month, it seems,” she writes, echoing T.S. Eliot. “At least for patients in teaching hospitals in the UK.” Doctors are people, to be sure, as fallible as the rest. As the author observes, “the sexism or racism found in other professional spheres hasn’t been surgically excised from medical work,” and the emotional costs of dealing with the ill and the dying can be challenging. And what of the slow-witted, the doctors that barely got out of medical school and barely passed their boards? Usually, they struggle to keep up throughout their careers, but until some Yelp-like service is thoroughly integrated into medical ratings, you may never know that you’re getting one of them instead of one who passed with flying colors. Elton is particularly good on the subtle matters of gender and ethnic discrimination that punish doctors who are different from the white, male mainstream; women doctors, she writes, “are paid less than their male counterparts” and diminished in meaningful ways for choosing to take time off or work part-time in order to raise children. Overall, Elton suggests that medical institutions must take the humanness of their doctors into better account, with an eye to determining who might “turn out not to be suited to the profession of medicine,” a matter less dependent on ethnicity, gender, or the like than on emotional resilience.
A useful adjunct to books from within medicine by the likes of Richard Selzer, Atul Gawande, and other metapractitioners.