Featured, Opinions
Leave a comment

Book Review: I Am Your Doctor, and This Is My Humble Opinion

History and the greater emergence of medical presence in popular media have placed physicians on a pedestal where they command significant power and respect. As healers and scholars who are privy to the secrets of the human body, physicians are often expected to shoulder great responsibilities for their fellow human being while still maintaining their own mental well-being. Yet, the culture surrounding the practice of medicine, which is not only imposed by society but perpetuated by medical professionals themselves, has continued to suffocate many physicians with unrealistic, onerous standards and expectations.

Not only are physicians expected to perform their jobs — to be present and invested in each patient’s life with genuine compassion and professional compartmentalization — but they must also be at grips with their personal feelings regardless of the clinical outcome. Often, society fails to look past the glamorized, supposedly prestigious lifestyle of physicians and assumes that physicians who constantly face death and suffering are not intrinsically affected. This grievous assumption is especially evident in society’s surprise when physicians demonstrate raw emotion publicly. Not long ago, we witnessed this kind of raw emotion and ensuing societal surprise when a photographic portrayal of a physician’s grief following the loss of a 19-year-old patient went viral.

Sadly, this expectation of mental hardiness in the face of an abrasive medical environment is also imposed by physicians themselves upon each other. Although I am only a second-year medical student, yet to roll up my sleeves in the clinical wards, I have already heard from upperclassmen about their negative experiences of being chastised for showing emotion or breaking “professional” composure — a friend had expressed frustration at being reprimanded for shedding tears in front of a patient who had just lost her baby. Fortunately, recent efforts in the field have shed light upon this can of worms,  and those working in medicine have gained some support dealing with the consequences of healing.

Touching on the background of attitudes surrounding physician expectations, Dr. Jordan Grumet, a prominent blogger and physician, presents a stark and unapologetically honest collection of his experiences as a physician in I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion. The book explores the obstacles and blessings in the life of a physician through an array of modified pieces from his previous blog publications. Opening with a self-interview, Dr. Grumet initially comes off as a sarcastic and somewhat embittered critic as he paints a stark and underappreciated ambiance on the backdrop of contemporary medicine. In ensuing short pieces and snapshots that detail how doctoring has permeated all parts of his life, his exhaustion and defeated devotion to medicine emanate through almost every paragraph, sentence, and pause.

Through sometimes fragmented and discombobulated chapters, he speaks of lost opportunities, of the lamentable interruptions in his family life, and of the severe desensitization that overexposes the small joys in mundane life into overwhelming bouts of ecstasy. Dr. Grumet traces the origin of his dedication to medicine, portraying a sense of helplessness to the will of this predestined path. Medicine chose him — not the other way around — and he followed faithfully, albeit begrudgingly. The shoulders of medicine are heavy, as physicians are expected to absorb, hold in, and digest the suffering and grief they experience, gracefully. The colors in a physician’s life fade with each discouraging patient encounter.

As the collection of stories continues, a sense of warmth slowly penetrates through darker and more bitter tones. We start to see an appreciation for life as well as humbling moments in Dr. Grumet’s interactions. We see the small chuckles of humor and optimism shared by the patients in their darkest, suffering moments. And as we experience this parallel of suffering and joy as readers, it becomes clear that what is truly meant to be conveyed is the humanity and fragility within the physician. Certainly, no occupation demands such capacity for enduring suffering and death without the loss of composure. At the same time, no occupation provides such intimate connections with humanity. Through reading his narratives, it is as if we are given front row seats to Dr. Grumet processing these difficult and often contradicting feelings. What is evident is that one’s metamorphosis from a whorl of embittered reluctance to a humbled salve for man’s suffering is not a linear process: it is cyclical, and each cycle is different.

In the end, this book was not truly written for the populace to understand the lives of physician –though it may be enlightening for patients to gain some insight into the not-so-glorious lives of physicians — but it was written for the healer, by the healer. It may even be true that the layman has no real interest in the sufferings of the physician; after all, it is the physician’s calling to deal with suffering, pain, and death. To be brutally honest, patients are simply consumers to a large corporation in which physicians serve as modes of action, and it is not in the consumer’s direct interest to develop a deep understanding of those who provide the service they need. Rather, this book was written to break down the silenced walls that we, as current future health care professionals, have built around ourselves. It was written so that we may collectively reject the imposed acceptance of the notion that we all must endure and suffer silently because tradition demands it so. This purpose begs for us to finally talk about the scars and wounds we bear as healers so that we ourselves may grieve and finally move on. What is more, Dr. Grumet’s stories serve to highlight and underscore the importance of implementing resources physicians can access to support each other through all the trials and tribulations of practicing medicine. It is indeed time — if not well past due — to shatter the self-imposed poker face that we call professionalism and admit that we are, after all, very human.

From the perspective of a pre-clinical medical student, I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion provides an insightful, yet jarring picture of the current climate of medicine.  For those of us treading on the not-so-yellow-brick-road of medicine, this novel is both a warning and advocacy for the future of medicine.

Nita Chen, MD Nita Chen, MD (39 Posts)

Medical Student Editor and in-Training Staff Member Emeritus

University of Florida Fixel Movement and Neurorestoration Institute

Nita Chen is a current movement disorders fellow at University of Florida Movement and Neurorestoration program. She is Class of 2017 medical student at Albany Medical College. To become cultural, she spent her early educational years in Taiwan and thoroughly enjoyed wonderful Taiwanese food and milk tea, thus ruining her appetite for the rest of her life in the United States. Aside from her neuroscience and cognitive science majors during her undergraduate career, she holed herself up in her room writing silly fictional stories, doodling, and playing the piano. Or she could be found spazzing out like a gigantic science nerd in various laboratories. Now she just holes up in her room to study most of the time.