Following the publicity surrounding the 70th anniversary of the NHS, non-fiction books about doctors’ experiences in the public health sector have skyrocketed in popularity. Whether you have a medical background or simply want to appreciate the reasons why you chose not to become a doctor, these books have topped bestseller lists. The most recent, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, describes the daily interactions of a junior doctor and his patients, until a particular medical event convinces him to stop practicing.
For doctors and patients alike, these poignant descriptions of daily interactions in hospitals highlight the humour and medical marvels that inspire people to become doctors. For those who, like me, do not have a scientific or medical background, it helps us to appreciate and understand the intricacies of our medical care. It’s like binge watching Grey’s Anatomy instead of working – you feel as though you suddenly understand and have some sudden expertise in medicine.
It suggests that while practicing medicine can be mundane, there will always be unique or exciting cases that reignite doctors’ love for their jobs
The humorous tone in Kay’s diary entries reinforces the idea that people enjoy these jobs. We often assume that our doctors don’t always enjoy their jobs. It makes us realise the rushed appointments and minimal interactions might not be the fault of our practitioners. It suggests that whilst practicing medicine can be mundane, there will always be unique or exciting cases that reignite doctors’ love for their jobs.
In a similar manner, Max Pemberton’s Trust Me, I’m a (Junior) Doctor couples humour with medical knowledge to provide a comprehensive understanding of the lives of newly qualified NHS doctors. It highlights the flaws within the public healthcare system and helps readers become more engaged with the political underpinnings of medical care. Whilst Kay’s descriptions progress from his initial experiences to further years in hospitals, Pemberton’s debut novel focuses on his first year practicing medicine.
On the other side of this, however, are journals from doctors on the other side of the pond. In particular, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi. In his tear-jerking entries, Kalanithi describes not just his life as a neurosurgeon, but as a cancer patient in the last stages of life. In reading this, you not only gain appreciation for the power medicine has on our lives, but also understand the almost impossible personal decisions which patients must make.
Bestsellers like This is Going to Hurt provide us with the opportunity to question the way we treat our doctors
These intimate journal entries allow us a different type of escapism. Finally, we can comprehend how physically and mentally strenuous the jobs of doctors are. Between the struggles of their personal lives, impossibly long work schedules and intricate legislation, it proves that medical care is now, to a large extent, beyond just treating patients. Through these entries, we are able to properly contemplate what it means to practice medicine.
Each doctor’s journal entries question the meaning of their roles, in an almost existential manner. In each respective book, you can clearly see the mental struggles of each doctor. This goes as far as becoming a physical manifestation of stress for Paul Kalanathi, whose novel was published posthumously. You can read to the point where each doctor reaches their breaking point, a point at which we begin to question the treatment of those who help us keep a certain standard of health. Surely, those who ensure we maintain this standard of physical and mental health should also meet this same standard?
Bestsellers like This is Going to Hurt provide us with the opportunity to question the way we treat our doctors, and the ways our healthcare system provides for the people who save our lives. Our healthcare providers provide us with essential care, and through our doctors’ memorable descriptions of their jobs, we can finally learn to give medical care the respect it truly deserves.