The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly by Matt McCarthy

In brief: Matt’s a first year doctor (aka intern) and he’s scared stiff. This is a moving, at times funny, memoir of his first year as a doctor.

The good: I loved the way the medicine was both accessible to those outside the field and fascinating to those within in it. Just the right balance.

The not-so-good: Some of the things Matt went through…whoa!

Why I chose it: Looked interesting, so I reserved it at the library.

Year: 2015

Pages: 323

Publisher: Crown

Setting: USA (predominantly Columbia Medical Center)

If you’re considering medicine as a career and don’t want to be dissuaded, I suggest not reading this book. If you want justification of why you’re not a doctor, read this book. It’s a warts and all look at what a first year medical doctor (aka intern) has to deal with. It celebrates the highs, but it also doesn’t shirk the lows. There are funny moments, some OMG moments and some sad moments.

Matt McCarthy was a talented baseball player, but didn’t quite make the grade for the big league. So he applied for and was accepted into Harvard Medical School. During that time, he showed an aptitude for surgery but chose to go into the medical side of things. He relates having to stitch a banana and the eternally exhausted look of his supervisor during his time as potential reasons. Plus, he wanted to deal with people and new challenges, connect with them as he had seen a mentor do with the homeless. (Although his surgical supervisor did come up with a classic statement – ‘don’t f*ck with the pancreas’ which made me laugh hysterically). So for his first year, Matt moves to New York’s Columbia Medical Center.

His first rotation is CCU.

CCU stands for coronary care unit. It’s where people go when they have a big heart attack or are seriously ill in the cardiac sense. It’s not really where you want a brand new, fresh grad to be. Especially not at night with a second year doctor (aka resident) for expert opinion. Matt clearly shows here how big the gap is between him (knowing the theory, but little practice) and Baio (a man who has done many 30 hour shifts and is truly excited by medicine). Baio is probably the greatest gift that Matt could receive at that point as he guides him through how to deal with real life as a doctor – presenting in rounds to the consultant (aka the boss), taking patient histories and doing examinations. But it’s a screw up by Matt (which unbeknown to him, was spotted by a senior doctor on the team and fixed) and a screaming session from another consultant that rattles him big time. Does he have what it takes to make it as a doctor?

Matt tries hard. He wants to connect with his patients, but is not sure if he’s prepared for the emotional bond and potential fallout. He also is part of a nasty accident that could have sent anyone off the rails. He doubts himself and compares himself unfavourably to the other interns in his group. Can he do it? Can he make it through?

In addition to his other talents, Matt is also a great writer. This is an emotion-laden read that doesn’t skim over anything, the good or the bad. While some other medical memoirs make light mention of lengthy shifts, Matt talks about the risks. He’s not afraid to talk about delays during resuscitation attempts or how awkward it is to tell someone that their loved one just died. It’s a candid read that people both inside and outside of the healthcare industry should read. Matt identifies many of the issues facing young doctors, and while things have gotten a bit better, there’s still room for improvement.

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