Becoming a Doctor (Hardcover)

These original stories reveal the inner lives of the men and women who are often rendered invisible by their white coats. Unfailingly honest, they bring to life doctors’ daily attempts to bring healing to their patients.

In this poignant and fascinating collection, doctors who are writers (and vice versa) relate their real-life journeys from intern to specialist and from student to teacher, reflecting on the rewards, disillusionments, and triumphs experienced along the way. They portray the broad arc of a doctor’s professional life—from a medical student’s uneasy first encounter with a cadaver, through the long days and nights of residency, to the later years of practice and teaching informed by hard-won wisdom.

Abigail Zuger remembers the emotional yet rewarding work of caring for an ill woman in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Danielle Ofri takes up dance and finds it brings her to understand the medical pas de deux with a patient. Sandeep Jauhar reflects on the power that a doctor’s words can wield over a patient. And Robert Coles remembers his time as a protégé to the still home-visiting doctor-poet William Carlos Williams. Perri Klass, Peter D. Kramer, Kay Redfield Jamison, Lauren Slater, and others, all add tales of pivotal moments in their lives in the profession.


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“Becoming a Doctor enters the inner life of medicine—its hazardous science, its burning hopes. Through honest and beautiful writing, these physicians reveal themselves as caregivers and as people—sometimes courageous, often imperfect, and always deeply, deeply human.”
               —Vincent Lam, MD, author of the Giller Prize-winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

“Here, some of the best-known names in medical writing are joined by powerful new voices to help elucidate the mysterious and grueling transformation from non-doctor to doctor. Readers will gain insight into both the exuberance and the disillusionment of physicians-in-training. A remarkable collection.”
               —Christine Montross, MD, author of Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

“These are stunningly honest stories about what it means to become a physician. In fresh and vivid language, doctors explore the urge to heal. You will find no saints or superheroes here: just humans who struggle daily to balance competence and compassion.”
               —Paul Austin, MD, author of Something for the Pain

“Readers of this collection of stories, dramas, tableaux, still lives, dreams, laments, and obituaries undergo in imagination the sorrow, the fear, and the awe of every doctor. The texts stand as a testimony to medicine’s resonance and reality. The book is not to be taken as an injunction to every doctor on earth to publish his or her memoir—that can be left to such gifted writers as are represented here—but an invitation to all readers to story their lives, to recognize every day’s weave of narratives, to confer form onto experience so as to see the unthinkably complex matters of our work.”
               —Rita Charon, MD, PhD, director, Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University

Author Bio

  • Edited by Lee Gutkind
    Lee Gutkind, recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” is the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, and editor of more than 25 books. He is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University and a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Gutkind has lectured to audiences around the world—from China to the Czech Republic, from Australia to Africa to Egypt. 
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Writing About Doctors

  • Intern

    The things they hoarded
  • Pas de Deux

  • First in My Class

  • The Patient Narrative

  • The Family Room

  • On Not Becoming a Doctor

  • Magic Hands

  • On Working with Cadavers

  • Going to Abilene

  • Sine Qua Non

  • A Doctor of None

  • Good Intentions

  • En Route

  • A Fire, Deliberately Set

  • “Thirty Minutes Closer

  • The Cleverest Doctor

  • A Manner of Being

  • Knock Knock