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The Pen and the Stethoscope – by Dr Leah Kaminsky

Deciphering a doctor’s writing was once hard work. Making sense of the scribble and lazy script fell to chemists. Now computers convey information more clearly, but perhaps at the cost of the idiosyncratic, the particular and the human touch. In essence, medical practice is about compassion and responsiveness. However, these days economists want to quantify care, cost patients and downsize support. The result is that doctors are defined more by what they do than what they bring to health care.

23 Dec 2010

Scribe Publications – ISBN: 9781921640735

 Reviewed by Francis Sullivan

Deciphering a doctor’s writing was once hard work. Making sense of the scribble and lazy script fell to chemists. Now computers convey information more clearly, but perhaps at the cost of the idiosyncratic, the particular and the human touch. In essence, medical practice is about compassion and responsiveness. However, these days economists want to quantify care, cost patients and downsize support. The result is that doctors are defined more by what they do than what they bring to health care.

So it is more than refreshing to read the writings of doctors who make the humanity of medical practice their theme. Leah Kaminsky’s The Pen and the Stethoscope is a collection of fiction and non-fiction about medical practice. The medical authors take the risk to reveal themselves, their fears, inadequacies, sense of achievement, but mainly their dedication to the vocation that is medicine.

In the foreword, we are told that a “physician works at the border between science and the soul”. It reminds us that doctors treat the whole person – not just the physical, or even the psychological. This is a frontier where philosophers, theologians and ethicists often claim domain. In this space, stories carry a truth with which most of us can intuitively resonate. Is it because we recognise the frailty and vulnerability of both the healer and the patient? Or is it because hearing any story that speaks of emotional honesty immediately connects with our own experience? In either case, it makes for an engaged reader and hopefully a wiser one at that.

This collection lays bare the deeply emotional costs involved in medical practice, the times when medical science can both astound and confound. There are stories where the intimacy of medical practice challenges the doctor’s confidence, their sense of worth and usefulness. There are stories of uncertainty and role conflict when former patients populate the private world of doctors in unexpected and unwanted ways.  These stories reveal how doctors see their work and how they imagine their patients see them. In many ways it is a good textbook for aspiring doctors.

The beauty of this collection is that it speaks of the bittersweet experience of medical practice. Kaminsky has done a lot more than show us that we can decipher doctors’ writings. She has given us a precious glimpse into the world of a doctor, both as they practise and as they imagine themselves to be.

Mr Sullivan is the Secretary General of the Federal AMA.

 

 


Published: 23 Dec 2010