Being a good doctor means hanging on to what makes you human in the face of a dehumanizing system, the author of some classic medical books told the graduating class of the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine on Thursday.
Stephen J. Bergman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and author of The House of God and Mount Misery, spoke during the traditional Hooding Ceremony, where students receive the hoods signifying their status and take the Hippocratic Oath. MCG holds its graduation ceremony today.
Though fiction, Dr. Bergman's books are a "hilarious" and "brutally honest" look at his internship and medical residency during the 1970s, which have become must-reads for students since, School of Medicine Dean David Stern said.
"The House of God was a gift to all of us who were training in medicine," Dr. Stern said.
That novel follows six interns across that first year as doctors inside a well-respected but clearly insane hospital, guided by a cynical but adept insider resident referred to as the Fat Man, who offers a number of seemingly contradictory but useful laws of medicine.
"Law No. 13: The delivery of medical care is to do as much nothing as possible," Dr. Bergman said. "There's something quite wise about that last law, and that is that the body has amazing healing properties. It's saying stay out of the way and let life heal."
It is also a "novel of resistance" about the interns' struggle to change the injustice they see, said Dr. Bergman, who wrote it under the pen name Samuel Shem.
"It's a journey where an innocent, an idealistic guy is entering the system that is pretty inhumane from his standpoint," Dr. Bergman said.
"What he's trying to do is to figure out how to treat them humanely and also be human himself."
Young interns still struggle with their patient loads, said Eniki Ayana Mack, who will do her residency in internal medicine at the University of Tennessee-Memphis.
"You have to strike a balance between providing good care and being humane and being efficient," she said.
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