Doctors (1988) is one of ’’the’’ best that I have read in a long time. Erich Segal’s enlightening work of fiction is both a love story and an eye-opening study of the training and practice of America’s most elite health professionals. The author, a graduate of Harvard himself has crafted a powerful and moving account of the 1962 batch of Harvard medical school. We experience the trials and tribulations that doctors go through, to be what they are.
What we understand is that doctors are as flawed as normal people but due to the nature of their work they are elevated to a demi-God status. The book leads us through the various incidences that the med school graduates encounter (demanding hours of internship, facing and overcoming your worst fears, hours of research and residency) which transforms them into the doctors they eventually become.
The central characters of the book are Laura Castellano and Barney Livingston; best friends who attend Harvard Medical School together. It takes many years filled with scientific celebrity and disappointing affairs for them to finally to realize that they have something more than friendship for each other. The stuff they do for each other remind you of your own friendships in life. Its very touching that no matter how badly messed up in life they both get, the other friend is always there to brighten the day.
Laura Castellano?s character is truly an inspiration to women folk everywhere. She achieves success in her work but at the cost of her personal life. She relies on Barney whenever she is in trouble and he helps her out no matter what. Barney(who goes on to become a psychologist) makes it a point to help Laura not lapse into self-deprecation. After a particularly bad relation he advises her in a beautiful one liner, ’’One complete person deserves another complete person’’.
An important character is that of Bennett Landsmann; a Black youth who does his best to overcome racial discrimination. He becomes one of the first colored persons to graduate from the med school. The best part is that he never lets his work suffer inspite of facing trying circumstances because of his color. The Jewish aspect also comes up in the story as Bennett’s adopted parents are Jews.
The Jewish people and their issues is a common factor in the storyline here, as in most of Segal’s other books like ’’The Class’’ as well as ’’Acts Of Faith?. The Judaic flavor that runs through Segal’s books could also be attributed to the fact that Segal was the first of three sons born in a Jewish family to Cynthia and rabbi Samuel M. Segal. Segal’s got an amazing vocabulary, which is hardly a surprise because he teaches literature at Yale, Princeton and Harvard. In fact if you plan to prepare for the GRE Verbal, you could pick up a lot of words from the book.
There are other characters like Seth, who helps in euthanasia rather than watch his patients suffer in extreme pain. Laura?s parents who let her down and go their separate ways. Some characters undergo a great behavioral change e.g. Palmer (Laura?s husband)- from a nice guy to a complete rogue without much of an explanation which mystifies the reader.
The book mentions that doctors have higher suicide and drug addiction rates than the rest of the population due to the rigorous demands of their profession. We learn that many wannabe doctors give up their lives (or end up demented), as they are unable to cope with the intense pressure of their work. We learn the inner secrets of what happens when doctors goof up in their practice and the politics that affects even this profession. Concepts like euthanasia and doctor’s ethics are touched upon, not to mention the adrenaline of the operating room. There is a lot of medical knowledge to be found here and many exciting hospital room scenes.
A long book ? its over 600 pages but it is very captivating and can be finished over a couple of days. I found the initial part of the book a tad slow but the speed picks up once Laura and Barney enter med school. In fact distinguished people of medicine recommend a reading of this book ?Doctors? to anyone who is interested in going to medical school which speaks a great deal about the value of the book. The book is a wonderful read and I would highly recommend it. You wouldn’t want to put this one down once you start it--make it a part of your classic collection!