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A sporadically interesting but not especially deep or insightful look at the pressures facing American doctors in the 1980's. Slavitt is a novelist (King of Hearts, Jo Stem, Alice at 80) who is practically surrounded by doctors--wife, father-in-law, brother-in-law, daughter in medical school--and so it must have seemed like a good idea to apply a stethoscope to the profession in general and find out how it's ticking these days. He interviewed an admittedly narrow segment of physicians, sticking fairly close to the Philadelphia area where he lives and concentrating almost entirely on academic doctors. A few of his findings are noteworthy: the system of admitting students to the nation's 127 medical schools probably needs a good overhaul; the fierce stress interns are put under may be counterproductive in later years; doctors these days (even the mythical G.P. out there in the sticks) are ""owned"" by and large by the big insurance companies. But there is nothing particularly new in all this. Slavitt is all too often content to sit back and literally let his tape recorder run the interview, whether he's talking to a pediatric oncologist, an administrator at a VA hospital, or a malpractice specialist--the book has a static, windy feel. And the style is not what one would expect from an accomplished writer of fiction: it alternates between basic magazine tones (""an energetic woman who combines the pert and earthy in a manner somehow reminiscent of Patricia Neal"") and novelistic excess (for instance, the doctor who reminded Slavitt of ""a giant lizard who waited, occasionally blinking, until he felt moved to dispose of a subject abruptly and finally with an amused flick of his long tongue""). In all, flatly written and basically unrevealing.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1987
Publisher: Doubleday