Picks and Pans Review: What Patients Taught Me

updated 11/15/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/15/2004 01:00AM

MEMOIR

by Audrey Young, M.D.

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In this keenly observed account of her first four years of training, Audrey young, M.D. ( now a staff internist at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center), brings something new to the making-of-a-doctor genre—a sense of humility. As a student in the mid-'90s, "intoxicated...with the idea of medical adventure," she works in rural hospitals in the Pacific Northwest and in Africa. Unfailingly sensitive to her patients—and to the cultures that shape their lives—she discovers the limits of her power as a physician without losing her sense of mission. In the U.S. she struggles to understand why patients who have near-fatal asthma attacks or diabetic crises ignore doctors' orders; in Swaziland she debates the "moral calculus" involved in testing for HIV in a country where an AIDS diagnosis can trigger suicide—but failing to test fuels the epidemic. A fine storyteller, she tempers pathos with the life-and-death scenes that ER junkies crave. This is one physician who appreciates the emotional complexity of her work—and isn't afraid to admit that healing is, above all, "a human act."

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