Short White Coat:
Lessons from Patients on Becoming a Doctor
by James A. Feinstein Rising Star, iUniverse

"During my tenure in caring for people and their health, I've realized that the process of becoming a doctorand ultimately being a doctorinvolves a great deal of patience, humility, and more than anything else, the ability and the desire to say: 'I don't know, but I am going to try to figure it out.'"

Memoirs are almost a dime a dozen, but many are entirely too personal for readers other than family members to enjoy. Not so Short White Coat, by Dr. James A. Feinstein, about his third year as a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Medicine remains a universally fascinating topic. Written as a series of narrative essays, these pieces could be read separately or all together. In fact, some were previously published in literary journals. The work is lively, honest, alternately funny and sad.

The first two years of medical school are dedicated to book learning and memorization. In year three, students are expected to jump in with head and hands. The pace is grueling. Feinstein has many rotations: the E. R., pediatrics, psychiatry, oncology, surgery, and others. He delivers babies, administers to a man with AIDS, and loses his first patient. He is supervised by doctors who are concerned about their patients and those whose arrogance and chilly manner shock him. Although he does learn a great deal from these MDs, he learns more about being a good, compassionate doctor from his patients.

One of the most memorable is Emma, an elderly woman in the final stage of cancer. Her physician pays her scant attention, calling her a goner. Astonished, Feinstein goes out of his way to get to know her; they establish a quick bond and manage to have some tame fun. After a slightly daring escapade together, Feinstein writes, I smiled to myself and wondered what new adventure she would dream up next. I promised myself that for the remainder of my rotation, I would try to keep my spirits high if not for myself, then for the sake of patients like Emma.

By the end of his demanding year, the author has answered the question: Do I have what it takes to become a doctor? Feinstein is a practicing pediatrician, and he continues to write in his spare time.

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