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Volume 3, Issue 2
Summer 2007:

In Our Hands: On Becoming a Doctor by Linda E. Clarke and Jeff Nisker

Review by: David J. Elpern

Cell 2 Soul. 2007 Summer; 3(2):a8

Pottersfield Press (2007); 196 Pages; ISBN: 1895900867

Linda Clarke and Jeff Nisker - In Our Hands: On Becoming a Doctor

In the chapter, "My First Housecall." Jonathan Kerr, a Family Practice resident sums up what medicine is about to him and directs us as to why we should read this book:

Medicine is much more than diagnoses, lab values and medications. It is a vehicle through which all of us are able to touch and make a positive difference in the lives of others, and nothing in life is more important than that. That's why I went into medicine and that's why I want to be a family doctor.

The editors are no less eloquent. Linda E. Clarke, a writer and professional storyteller who works in health care humanities and medical education and Jeff Nisker an academic gynecologist and medical humanist were fortunate to meet and collaborate on editing an outstanding collection of Canadian medical student and trainee stories, reminiscences and poems. The pieces they selected inform and inspire us whether we are care givers, patients or patients' family members.

"Working with students, I help them find the wealth of stories that make them who they are. The experiences of medical students are profound, and there will be many more of them by the time it takes for a medical student to evolve into a doctor." Linda E. Clarke

"The stories of medical trainees within in Our Hands are stories of this training, of their patients, of the illness condition, of themselves. The collection will enrich the experience of medical trainees, and those privileged to be in a covenant with them, as instructors or as patients, or indeed as health policy developers, which must include the general public. Jeff Nisker

We hear a lot about the impersonal nature of medical care, how physicians interrupt their patients on the average in 18 seconds and take control of the visit; yet here are many rays of hope, here are lucid and compassionate voices that give us glimpses into the hearts and souls of pre-cynical future health care professionals.

In 1899, the Canadian physician William Osler in an extemporaneous address to the Albany, NY medical students addressed the need of cultivating the head and the heart.

There is a strong feeling abroad among people - you see it in the newspapers - that we doctors are given over nowadays to science; that we care much more for the disease and its scientific aspects than for the individual. I don't believe it, but at any rate, whether the tendency exists or not, I would urge upon you in your own practice, to care more particularly ...for the individual patient than for the special features of the disease....Dealing as we do with poor suffering humanity, we see the man unmasked, exposed to all the frailties and weaknesses, and you have to keep your heart soft and tender lest you have too great a contempt for your fellow creatures. The best way is to keep a looking-glass in your own heart, and the more carefully you scan your own frailties the more tender you are for those of your fellow creatures.

In Our Hands is witness to the prescience of Osler's words. We recommend you read this book for it will inspire you and make you feel good about medicine's future practitioners.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Canada. In the past few years, two similar books have appeared in the United States. Together with In Our Hands, these comprise a Trifecta of student humanism that would befit all of us to dip into with regularity in quiet moments.

It was Osler again, who said: "the pupil and the teacher working together on the same lines, only one a little ahead of the other. This is the ideal towards which we should move. In Osler's view it was the professor in the vanguard. Clarke and Nisker's students show us that physicians have much to learn from those who have not been granted their doctorate yet.

With permission of the author and the editors a chapter from IOH, Consider Compassion by Diane Clapham, is reprinted in this issue of Cell 2 Soul.

Enjoy Ms. Chapman's essay, but the book, savor the stories.

The Trifecta

  1. In Our Hands: On Becoming a Doctor
    by Linda E. Clarke, Jeff Nisker editors
    Pottersfield Press (May 1 2007) Paperback: 196 pages
    This book is available through bookstores; Nimbus: 1-800-NIMBUS9; amazon.ca; and indigo.ca.
  2. The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death
    Edited by: Susan Pories, Sachin H. Jain, Gordon Harper
    Algonquin Books Paperback: (June 2, 2006)
    Available on Amazon.com
  3. Let Me Listen to Your Heart: Writings by Medical Students
    Edited by David Svahn and Alan Kozak
    Bassett Healthcare 2002 Paperback: 125 pages
    This book is available from the Dept of Med Ed, Bassett Healthcare, Cooperstown, NY 13326. Email leann.smith~AT~bassett·org

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