Books: On Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation

True story. When I was little, I decided I wanted to be one of three possible things when I grew up: a writer, a stand-up comedian, or a doctor. Luckily and happily, I’ve managed to make the first one happen. Not sure what I was even thinking with that second one — maybe too much early exposure to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy?

As for the last, I think I actually might have made a good doctor, but life had other plans. I had severe asthma as a kid growing up in south Mississippi. I was in the hospital at least twice a year and I loved being around the doctors and nurses. They made me feel safe. I knew I would feel better, thanks to them. And my pharmacist father had taught our family doctor high school chemistry (in my dad’s pre-pharmacy days), so that was a very familiar relationship. I looked up to Dr. Burris and respected him.

Looking back on it now, he displayed so much patience and kindness with our family — my dad would call him at all hours about me and my also-asthmatic sister and sometimes we’d end up at the doctor’s house at 3am, sitting and wheezing at his kitchen table while he decided whether we needed to be admitted to the hospital. The beauty of small-town life, I guess. (To be fair, my father also opened his drugstore at all hours of the day and night to help people in our community get the medicine they needed — often not charging them for it. But those acts of kindness deserve their own separate post.)

So, despite not becoming a doctor myself, I’m still drawn to reading about it. And talking about it. And thinking about it. I’m simply fascinated. Heaven help you if you’re my friend and also a doctor — I have so many questions for you! But all from a place of deep admiration.

And with that introduction as background, here’s my write-up of the excellent book Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation for the Mississippi Business Journal:

Cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar’s memoir, Intern, about his residency at a New York City hospital is a touching, honest account of the difficulties young doctors face when they leave medical school and attempt to become practicing physicians. In particular, the first year of residency, known as internship, is legendarily grueling and the learning curve steep. Even those of us not in the medical field have likely heard about the all-nighters, the exhaustion, and the overwork. After reading Jauhar’s book, this view doesn’t seem to be an exaggeration.

In addition to making his readers feel like we’re right alongside him in the hospital late at night with blurry eyes and twitchy nerves, Jauhar’s book is also interesting because of his own unique path to becoming a doctor. Unlike many of his fellow interns (as well as his older brother), who’d wanted to be doctors for their entire lives, Jauhar majored in physics in college, was working towards a PhD in that field, and had always wanted to be just about anything but a doctor. A change of heart drove him to switch from physics to medicine.

During his internship, however, self-doubt about his decision arises repeatedly. His candidness about this ongoing ambivalence towards his chosen profession and his understandable worries that maybe he’s just not cut out to be a doctor make his story so relatable. And they underscore how emotionally draining that first year of residency is.

Jauhar also struggles with how to balance the need to be efficient and decisive when it comes to treating patients and his desire to have an emotional connection to them. He wants to be a good doctor, but he also wants to be a good person, and he discovers that those two goals are often at odds. Some of this is related to the sheer workload and the very real time constraints interns are faced with, and some of it, as he notices with older residents, appears to be a coping mechanism. Doctors see so much pain and encounter so many awful stories that some of them have to resort to dark humor about their patients or, worse, a callousness that Jauhar wants no part of. He promises himself that he’ll become a different sort of doctor.

Reading this book deepened my appreciation for doctors, their hard work, and the complicated choices they’re often faced with. I also empathized even more with my friends who’ve become doctors. Of course, I’d heard about their sleepless nights, but this book gave me whole new insights into the relentless nature that’s required to become a physician.

(Originally published — without the introduction about my childhood choices of profession — here: