Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician's First Year by Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy is so endearing. He's a brand-spanking-new doctor and he doesn't know a darn thing and isn't afraid to tell us. This book mostly covers his first year as an intern at Columbia University Hospital. He went to Harvard for med school (although apparently they don't teach much medicine which is disturbing. Harvard grads are well-known for having no grasp of physiognomy, only dissecting one upper or lower extremity.) And then, in the grand tradition of American medical training, he is thrown into the very deep end. He starts at the cardiac care unit (CCU) with a great resident who he calls Baio for his resemblance to Scott Baio. He screws up a diagnosis his first night which haunts him for many months until he comes clean. He also meets Benny who lives in the CCU, waiting on a heart.

Each month Matt gets a new department and a new resident teaching him, some good some not. Each month he feels newly overwhelmed with the masses of information and skills he lacks. The low point is when he sticks himself with a needle after drawing blood on an HIV patient. With drug-resistant HIV no less, and Hep C. Although, the months of taking a giant drug cocktail daily does help him connect with an HIV-positive patient later, and get her to agree to take one drug (which is not what she needs but is better than the none she was taking.) It's slow, but Matt does improve with his abilities and his knowledge, and by the end of the first year, somehow, without us or even him consciously realizing it, he has become a competent (if still very young and inexperienced) doctor, able to run a code by himself.

I loved Matt's brutal honesty. He mopes, he second-guesses, he feels guilty, he worries about himself and others, he wants desperately to help but doesn't know how, and his eager earnestness in trying to improve was what drew me along, despite his errors and ineptness and bungles along the way. He manages to never forget about the patients, to try to connect with them above all else, and he works like a dog to get everything right. It is more than a little disturbing to realize how clueless the person helping you at a teaching hospital just might be (although I've always known that in theory, having grown up at a university, and loving TV shows like ER and Gray's Anatomy.) It's refreshing to hear from a doctor who couldn't be further from the stereotype of an arrogant type-A personality (Matt actually was drafted and played minor-league baseball for a year as a lefty pitcher, so he really isn't from a stereotypical background at all.) And it is a nice reminder that once, we were all bumbling about with little knowledge in our field. The learning curve may be steep but most of us make it up, and even the most knowledgeable once were students too.

The publisher sent me a copy of this ARC.

1 comment:

Kay said...

I've thought about reading this book. Think this is the first review I've read of it. Yes, we all had a lot to learn in the early days. though doctors do have a lot more responsibility than people in my field - which was accounting. LOL

My daughter is a RN and started her career at a teaching hospital - a very large one. She's in labor and delivery and you don't even want to hear her stories from those days. There were so many babies delivered there each day, the young nurses had a wealth of experience in just a short while. The doctors too, but the more experienced nurses were not very kind in their assessments of those young doctors. :-)