Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors by Caroline Elton - review by Rob Ewing

Rob Ewing

Behind the Stethoscope

Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors


William Heinemann 372pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Caroline Elton is a chartered psychologist. The larger part of Also Human relates to her work as head of the careers unit responsible for supporting trainee doctors in London. Prior to taking up this position, she spent some time shadowing senior clinicians on ward rounds as part of an initiative to ‘challenge outdated models of medical education’ (which sounds almost perfectly designed to wind up senior medics). She describes something of that role here, but mainly frames her chapters around case histories of doctors struggling with career choices. Take Lola, for instance, who trained to be an oncologist but had to change fields after she experienced intense distress while treating cancer patients – in large part because her own father had died of the illness. Or Sarah, a trainee obstetrician whose own fertility treatment failed, which left her feeling useless and dreading the prospect of delivering other women’s babies.

Elton presents many similar cases, which collectively demonstrate that doctors can be as heedless as anyone else in choosing their careers. She suggests that some become doctors out of a ‘reparative urge’, taking on the role of the ‘wounded healer’ as they try to make good the illness

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