The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, by Matt McCarthy

22716448After a year in the minor leagues*, Matt McCarthy returned to the Ivy League complete his medical degree. The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly documents McCarthy’s experience as a first year intern in a New York City teaching hospital.

Everything I know about learning to be a doctor comes from Scrubs. McCarthy’s experience recalls the first season of that series—but with fewer sequences of daydream and less sparkling dialog. His first rotation is in the cardiac care unit, where patients are an inch from dying of heart failure. McCarthy is terrified and unprepared. His Harvard education taught him the theory of medicine, but very little about the actual practice of medicine in life-or-death situations.

Even with the help of generous residents and attending physicians, there is some doubt about whether McCarthy will survive his first year. (Unless you peek ahead to the epilogue or the About the Author paragraph at the end of the book, that is.) McCarthy’s worst moment comes when he accidentally sticks himself with a needle loaded with the blood of an HIV patient with a high viral load and Hepatitis C. In the weeks that follow, McCarthy has to take a debilitating regime of antiretroviral medication and worry if he’s infected.

McCarthy pairs his story of becoming a doctor with that of a patient he met in the CCU who is waiting for a new heart. Benny’s ups and downs on the organ transplant list—literal and metaphorical—mirror McCarthy’s highs and lows. Just as we have to wait to see if McCarthy will be a doctor, we have to wait to find out if Benny gets his new heart.

It’s amazing and appalling to me what the current system puts medical students through. McCarthy writes of 30 hour shifts and supervising physicians grilling him about his mental health and ability to cope. The patients McCarthy meets are frustrating in their refusals to take medication and lack of knowledge about their conditions. (I don’t blame them for this. Health education in the United States is a shambles.) It’s a wonder anyone makes it to fully fledged doctorhood when it seems like everything is stacked against them.

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly feels like it’s too short. There are moments when McCarthy pauses to reflect on the power and responsibility he’s been given, but these moments are few and far between. Aside from McCarthy and Benny, we don’t really get to know any of the other people in the hospital. I would have liked to know more about, well, everything.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 7 April 2015.

* Documented in Odd Man Out. Questions have been raised about the veracity of McCarthy’s account, however.


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