Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better.
Although each essay in this book can be read separately, together they paint a picture of Suzanne Koven’s life, from her childhood recollections of her father’s orthopedic practice and always choosing to be the doctor during childhood games of Careers to her own residency and eventually her work as a doctor. Throughout, the reader witnesses Suzanne struggling to maintain a work-life balance, parenting her children, caring for her ageing parents and figuring out how to be the best doctor she can be for her patients.
I find my patients much more interesting than their diseases.
Although I was introduced to a number of the author’s patients, albeit de-identified and with some details changed, there were times I was holding out for a resolution that failed to come. I wanted to know what became of these people whose stories I was just becoming invested in.
For some reason I also became invested in the story of the white pine trees, where the infection of one may result in the infection of its neighbours. My biggest frustration with this book was not learning whether the two pine trees survived or not. Why do I care so much about this? Perhaps it was because of what those trees symbolised to the author. Regardless, I felt cheated by not knowing their fate.
My favourite parts of this book involved the author’s relationship with her mother and how it changed throughout her life.
The reflections on what it is that makes a good doctor would be particularly valuable for newly trained doctors, who are finding their feet in a world where having empathy for their patients can prove just as important as knowledge of their medical conditions.
Students worry about knowing enough. Patients worry about them caring enough.
Content warnings include ableism, attempted suicide, eating disorders, racism, sexism and sexual harassment.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company for granting my wish to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome” – a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s “Letter to a Young Female Physician” has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine.
Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and ageing parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.
Shining with warmth, clarity, and wisdom, Letter to a Young Female Physician reveals a woman forging her authentic identity in a modern landscape that is as overwhelming and confusing as it is exhilarating in its possibilities. Koven offers an indelible account, by turns humorous and profound, from a doctor, mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and writer who sheds light on our desire to find meaning, and on a way to be our own imperfect selves in the world.
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