Becoming a Doctor

From Student to Specialist, Doctor-Writers Share Their Experiences

Edited by Lee Gutkind

These original stories reveal the inner lives of the men and women who are often rendered invisible by their white coats. Unfailingly honest, they bring to life doctors' daily attempts to bring healing to their patients. 

In this poignant and fascinating collection, doctors who are writers (and vice versa) relate their real-life journeys from intern to specialist and from student to teacher, reflecting on the rewards, disillusionments, and triumphs experienced along the way. They portray the broad arc of a doctor's professional lifefrom a medical student's uneasy first encounter with a cadaver, through the long days and nights of residency, to the later years of practice and teaching informed by hard-won wisdom.

Abigail Zuger remembers the emotional yet rewarding work of caring for an ill woman in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Danielle Ofri takes up dance and finds it brings her to understand the medical pas de deux with a patient. Sandeep Jauhar reflects on the power that a doctor's words can wield over a patient. And Robert Coles remembers his time as a protégé to the still home-visiting doctor-poet William Carlos Williams. Perri Klass, Peter D. Kramer, Kay Redfield Jamison, Lauren Slater, and others, all add tales of pivotal moments in their lives in the profession. 

Advance Praise for Becoming a Doctor

"Becoming a Doctor enters the inner life of medicineits hazardous science, its burning hopes. Through honest and beautiful writing, these physicians reveal themselves as caregivers and as peoplesometimes courageous, often imperfect, and always deeply, deeply human." 
~Vincent Lam, MD, author of the Giller Prize-winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

"Here, some of the best-known names in medical writing are joined by powerful new voices to help elucidate the mysterious and grueling transformation from non-doctor to doctor. Readers will gain insight into both the exuberance and the disillusionment of physicians-in-training. A remarkable collection."
~Christine Montross, MD, author of Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab 

"These are stunningly honest stories about what it means to become a physician. In fresh and vivid language, doctors explore the urge to heal. You will find no saints or superheroes here: just humans who struggle daily to balance competence and compassion."
~Paul Austin, MD, author of Something for the Pain

"Readers of this collection of stories, dramas, tableaux, still lives, dreams, laments, and obituaries undergo in imagination the sorrow, the fear, and the awe of every doctor. The texts stand as a testimony to medicine's resonance and reality. The book is not to be taken as an injunction to every doctor on earth to publish his or her memoir—that can be left to such gifted writers as are represented here—but an invitation to all readers to story their lives, to recognize every day's weave of narratives, to confer form onto experience so as to see the unthinkably complex matters of our work." 
~Rita Charon, MD, PhD, director, Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Writing About Doctors Lee Gutkind
Pas de Deux Danielle Ofri
First in My Class Chris Stookey
The Patient Narrative Perri Klass
The Family Room Teri Reynolds
On Not Becoming a Doctor Kay Redfield Jamison
Magic Hands Thomas C. Gibbs
On Working with Cadavers Marion Bishop
Going to Abilene Elissa Ely
Sine Qua Non Peter D. Kramer
A Doctor of None Zaldy S. Tan
Good Intentions Sandeep Jauhar
En Route Abigail Zuger
A Fire, Deliberately Set Peggy Sarjeant
Thirty Minutes Closer Leah E. Mintz
The Cleverest Doctor Clint Morehead
A Manner of Being Robert Coles
Knock Knock Lauren Slater


Abigail Zuger

Abigail Zuger is a physician in New York City and a frequent contributor of essays, reviews, and articles to both medical and lay... read more

Charles Bardes

Charles Bardes lives and practices in New York City, where he is Professor of Clinical Medicine and Associate Dean at Weill Cornell Medical... read more

Chris Stookey

Chris Stookey graduated from UCSF Medical School in 1986. He currently practices emergency medicine in southern California, working a three... read more

Clint Morehead

Clint Morehead received his undergraduate degree from Bellarmine University in 2004 and his MD from the University of Louisville in 2008.... read more

Danielle Ofri

Danielle Ofri is a physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is best known for Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at... read more

Elissa Ely

Elissa Ely is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. She completed her residency in Community Psychiatry, worked many years in a... read more

Kay Redfield Jamison

Kay Redfield Jamison is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins... read more

Lauren Slater

Lauren Slater is a psychologist and writer. Her books include Welcome to My Country, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, and ... read more

Leah E. Mintz

Leah E. Mintz graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude from the University of California, Los Angeles before recieving her medical... read more

Marion Bishop

Marion Bishop earned a PhD in English and American Literature from New York University and an MD from the University of Utah. She lives in... read more

Peggy Sarjeant

Peggy lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two teenagers, two 110-pound Bernese Mountain Dogs and a cat that rules the world. Her... read more

Perri Klass

Perri Klass is the author of books, essays, award-winning short stories, a novel, and numerous articles ranging from professional papers to... read more

Peter D. Kramer

Peter D. Kramer is an American psychiatrist, former Marshall Scholar, and faculty member of Brown Medical School specializing in the area... read more

Robert Coles

Robert Coles is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1973 for his series of books... read more

Sandeep Jauhar

Sandeep Jauhar is a cardiologist and director of the Heart Failture Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He writers regularly for... read more

Sayantani DasGupta

Sayantani DasGupta, MD, MPH, teaches in the Master's Program in Narrative Medicine and co-chairs a University Seminar–Narrative,... read more

Teri Reynolds

Teri Reynolds received her doctorate in literature from Columbia University and her medical degree from the University of California, San... read more

Thomas C. Gibbs

Thomas C. Gibbs is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist in Orlando, Florida. He has published poems, essays, and articles in the Yale... read more

Zaldy S. Tan

Zaldy S. Tan is Director of Education at the Brigham and Women's Hospital Division of Aging and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard... read more


"Full of quiet wisdom"


October 19, 2010

Many of these pieces are full of quiet wisdom. There are no real heroics here, not in the 'jumping on the chest' kind of way.... read more

JAMA Review

Journal of the American Medical Association

September 15, 2010

Becoming a Doctor offers a sampling of the countless ways that physicians forge a distinctive identity and how they strive for that... read more