Books by doctors on health reform and beyond

As a freelancer, I’ve been known to grumble about doctors who write. After all, why should they hog the Pulitzers and the pages of The New Yorker when they have perfectly good day jobs? On the other hand, doctors in print often offer us an alternative to the mass-marketed Dr. Oz or the perky, laminated docs on daytime TV’s “The Doctors.”

So put down that Parade magazine. (We’ll admit that  Dr. O has some good advice about sleeping problems.) Instead, check out the always rich “Ideas” section of The Boston Globe, where you’ll find a column by MGH doc Suzanne Koven on doctors who write.

Perhaps so many doctors are writing literature today as an antidote to our increasingly rushed and technological medical practice. There’s less time or incentive to include, in the modern case history, vivid descriptions of a patient’s appearance, details about his occupation and family life, or musings about what might ail him, than there were 100 years ago. When Oliver Sacks showed his friend, W.H. Auden, film clips of the stiff and mute patients about whom he wrote in “Awakenings,’’ he asked the poet “What do you think they lack?’’ “Music,’’ Auden replied. Doctors who write literature supply the grace notes missing from today’s medical records, recapturing the music of the human condition.

Maybe.  The column arrives in anticipation of the release of an anthology “Writer, M.D.: The Best Contemporary Fiction and Nonfiction by Doctors,’’ edited by Leah Kaminsky . And the story includes a list of other works by doctor-writers.

Writing about patients can generate compelling narratives.  Try pitching a story on health reform.  So, we are surprised to see that you need to buy a ticket for the Cambridge reading Jonathan Gruber’s Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, and How It Works. Maybe we should learn to draw: it’s a comic book.


For a more text-based, deeply informed view of politics and health reform, check out the free discussion by Stuart Altman and David Shactman of  “Power, Politics, and Universal Health Care’’ on Monday  at 7 p.m. at Brookline Booksmith. Altman, a Brandeis professor, has been bouncing back and forth between Waltham and Washington for years. He knows his stuff.




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