White Coat: Becoming a Doctor at Harvard Medical School

Overview

White Coat is Dr. Ellen Lerner Rothman's vivid account of her four years at Harvard Medical School. Describing the grueling hours and emotional hurdles she underwent to earn the degree of M.D., Dr. Rothman tells the story of one woman's transformation from a terrified first-year medical studen into a confident, competent doctor.

Touching on the most relevant issues in medicine today—such as HMOs, aIDS, and assisted suicide—Dr. Rothman recounts her despair and exhilaration as a ...

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Overview

White Coat is Dr. Ellen Lerner Rothman's vivid account of her four years at Harvard Medical School. Describing the grueling hours and emotional hurdles she underwent to earn the degree of M.D., Dr. Rothman tells the story of one woman's transformation from a terrified first-year medical studen into a confident, competent doctor.

Touching on the most relevant issues in medicine today—such as HMOs, aIDS, and assisted suicide—Dr. Rothman recounts her despair and exhilaration as a medical student, from the stress of exams to th hard-won rewards that came from treating patients.

The anecdotes in White Coat are funny, heartbreaking, and at times horrifying. Each chapter taes us deeper into Dr. Rothman's medical school experience, illuminating her struggle to walk the line between too much and not enough intimacy with her patients. For readers of Perri Klass and Richard Selzer, Dr. Rothman looks candidly at medicine and presents an unvarnished perspective on a subject that matters to us all. White Coat opens the infamously closed door between patient and doctor in a book that will change the way we look at our medical establishment.

In White Coat, Ellen Rothman offers a vivid account of her four years at one of the best medical schools in the country, and opens the infamously closed door between patient and doctor. Touching on today's most important medical issues — such as HMOs, AIDS, and assisted suicide — the author navigates her way through despair, exhilaration, and a lot of exhaustion in Harvard's classrooms and Boston's hospitals to earn the indisputable title to which we entrust our lives.

With a thoughtful, candid voice, Rothman writes about a wide range of experiences — from a dream about holding the hand of a cadaver she had dissected to the acute embarrassment she felt when asking patients about their sexual histories. She shares her horror at treating a patient with a flesh-eating skin infection, the anxiety of being "pimped" by doctors for information (when doctors quiz students on anatomy and medicine), as well as the ultimate reward of making the transformation and of earning a doctor's white coat.

For readers of Perri Klass, Richard Selzer, and the millions of fans of ER, White Coat is a fascinating account of one woman's journey through school and into the high-stakes drama of the medical world.

In White Coat, Ellen Rothman offers a vivid account of her four years at one of the best medical schools in the country, and opens the infamously closed door between patient and doctor. Touching on today's most important medical issues — such as HMOs, AIDS, and assisted suicide — the author navigates her way through despair, exhilaration, and a lot of exhaustion in Harvard's classrooms and Boston's hospitals to earn the indisputable title to which we entrust our lives.

With a thoughtful, candid voice, Rothman writes about a wide range of experiences — from a dream about holding the hand of a cadaver she had dissected to the acute embarrassment she felt when asking patients about their sexual histories. She shares her horror at treating a patient with a flesh-eating skin infection, the anxiety of being "pimped" by doctors for information (when doctors quiz students on anatomy and medicine), as well as the ultimate reward of making the transformation and of earning a doctor's white coat.

For readers of Perri Klass, Richard Selzer, and the millions of fans of ER, White Coat is a fascinating account of one woman's journey through school and into the high-stakes drama of the medical world.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688175894
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Series: Quill
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 469,239
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Lerner Rothman, M.D., lives with her husband, Carlos Lerner, in Brookline, Massachusetts. She is currently doing her residency in the Boston Combined Pediatrics Program at Boston Children's Hospital and Boston City Hospital. This is her first book.

Ellen Lerner Rothman, M.D., lives with her husband, Carlos Lerner, in Brookline, Massachusetts. She is currently doing her residency in the Boston Combined Pediatrics Program at Boston Children's Hospital and Boston City Hospital. This is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

WhiteCoat

"You'll never ever guess what I did," Roy said over the phone. He had just returned from a clinic where he followed a physician as he saw his patients.

Roy was the first member of our class to perform a rectal exam. In fact, besides taking blood pressure, it was the first procedure any of us had performed. The gentleman Roy practiced on was subjected to three prostate exams on that particular visit -- one from the physician and two from the medical students. But as uncomfortable as the experience must have been for the patient, it was equally awkward for Roy.

When I told my mother about Roy's experience, she was incredulous that the patient permitted such inexperienced hands to probe his prostate. "The patient actually allowed that?"

The only way to explain the patient's willingness was Roy's white coat. After several months of wearing mine, I was already accustomed to patient trust way out of proportion to my abilities. Another classmate questioned a patient about his diagnosis. Unfamiliar with the disease, he could only ask, "Um, do you think you could tell me more about what that is?"

The patient replied, "I was hoping you could."

My classmates and I received our white coats with "Harvard Medical School" embroidered on the breast in crimson cursive on the first day of orientation to medical school in our white coat ceremony. Our event in the Holmes Society was anything but ceremonious. Our class was divided randomly into four different societies, mainly for administrative purposes. Each of the four societies hosted its own ceremony, and we all met afterward for lunch, self-consciously checking one another out in the new and unfamiliarwhite lab coats. I stood near the end of a long, disorganized line in the Holmes Society office, waiting to receive my coat. By the time I reached the front, all the small coats had been given out, and I received one several sizes too large.

"You can trade with someone," the administrative assistant said.

A day later, wearing our coats still creased from the packaging, we attended our first patient clinic as formal members of the medical world.

The white coat ceremony, a new idea from the administration, was intended to herald our induction into the medical community on our first day of medical school. While not the long coat of a physician or resident, the white coat signaled our medical affiliation and differentiated us from the civilian visitors and volunteers.

This was not an affiliation I was ready to claim as a first-year medical student. Over the course of the year, after taking courses in anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, physiology, genetics, and embryology, I was more deeply impressed by how little I knew than by how much I had learned. Yet every Monday in ourPatient-Doctor course I found myself in my white coat interviewing still another patient.

Despite the uncertainty of my place in the medical world, my white coat ushered me into the foreign world of the patient-doctor dynamic. To my patients, the white coat denoted the authority and trust ascribed to physicians by the general public. Most patients were not attuned to the medical hierarchy designated by coat length. A white coat is a white coat is a white coat. Never mind that my coat loudly proclaimed "medical student." I felt as if I wore the scarlet letter, but no one knew what it stood for.

These weekly interviews as part of our Patient-Doctor course were about learning the important questions, the right mannerisms, and the appropriate responses to our patients. Our instructors taught us to take a careful, methodical history, which I more or less skillfully replicated every week with a different patient. Although the goal of these weekly patient interactions was to discover a person's experience of illness, these interviews were more about my learning process than about the patient's story. As I walked with my classmate back to the medical school from the hospital after a Patient-Doctor session, Andrea remarked, "I hate this. I'm so caught up in figuring out the next question that I can't really focus on the patient's story at all. Do you think this will ever change?"

When I interviewed patients, they saw my white coat. Many of my patients were well into their seventies, and at twenty-two I must have seemed a child to them. The white coat masked my youth. It masked my inexperience. It masked my nervousness. Yet in the medical world my white coat did not offer the solace of anonymity but forced me to take on power that I was not ready to accept.

As a white coat I could ask any question, and patients felt obligated to answer. They trusted me to hear their story without judgment, to understand their symptoms and their suffering, to listen with compassion. I collected information about their most personal problems and asked them about some of the most deeplyprivate parts of their physical and psychological lives. In return they learned nothing about me.

Furthermore, these weekly interactions imposed power without responsibility. Every week I left the patients' rooms with a few pages of frantically scribbled notes, never to return. Their lives and our interaction were reduced to my chicken scratch. I had no relationship to the patients' care. My continuing obligation to the person was restricted to the requirements of confidentiality.

Before entering medical school, I would not have thought twice about allowing a medical student to perform a rectal exam on me. The white coat would have fooled me too. While I fully appreciated the opportunity afforded me by these patients to learn how to interview and perform simple procedures, I looked forward to a time when I would be able to offer my patients concrete skills. I looked forward to growing into my white coat.

Copyright 1999 by Ellen Lerner Rothman, M.D. White Coat. Copyright © by Ellen Rothman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Table of Contents

White Coat 1
First Year
Arriving at Harvard 7
Anatomy Lab 19
ER 24
Taking a Sexual History 27
Great Expectations 32
Hospice 38
Second Year
Healing Touch 47
First Exam 55
Naming 60
A Conflict of Values 64
The Pelvic 69
Relationships 78
The Show 82
Boards 87
The Horror, the Horror 91
Trauma 95
Loss of Language 99
On My Way 105
The Clinical Years
Surgery 115
Procedures 126
Difficult Patients 134
Too Much 154
Obstetrics and Gynecology 168
The TABs 176
Misery on the Wards 189
Pediatrics 199
Jamie 204
AIDS 214
Internal Medicine 227
Tiger 233
Desperation 256
Relationships Reprise 260
The Birdman 268
Psychiatry 276
Jessica 282
The Power of a Question 299
Hazard 309
ER Reprise 315
Graduation 330
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2004

    A great read about medical school and becoming a doctor!

    Latley I've been thinking that I want to become a pediatrician . And Dr. Rothmans book just further emphasised my thoughts. It made me want to just go form starting to senior year of HS in Sept. straight to med. school ! I loved this book and the look inside that she gives you of the medical profession and the education part of it as well !

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2002

    Wonderful tale of the struggles encountered in med school

    IF you or anyone you know is considering the medical profession or a career in public health/ethics, this book is a must read. Dr. Rothman does a wonderful job of laying out the daily life and fun stories of a med student.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2001

    good solid account2

    I read Ellen Rothman's book and found it to be very insightful. I recieved a look into the Medical school world. Many of her experiances will be different from mine, but I look forward to the day I go to medical school, and later become a Doctor.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2000

    Solid Account

    I found Rothman's book to be an accurate, candid, and well-balanced descriptive account of her medical school education. Many of her reactions and observations as an initiate into a profession as a health care provider coincide precisely with my own experience as an EMT. Her book is not of the level of Sinclair Lewis, Klass, or Marion, but that is merely because her purpose, predominantly expository and not advocacy, is substantially different. I believe she accomplishes her literary purpose well. One weakness is that her long accounts of her clinical years would probably bore someone without a vested interest in medicine. As a medical student myself, I highly recommend the book for those planning to attend medical school.

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