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How to Be Good

Hornby, Nick

Medicine and the Arts

Lisa Dittrich, managing editor of Academic Medicine, and Anne Farmakidis, staff editor, are coeditors of “Medicine and the Arts.” (Unsolicited submissions are welcome.)

From How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, copyright © 2001 by Nick Hornby. Used by permission of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.


Number four: work. This seems particularly unfair. You’d think that my choice of profession would in itself be enough to absolve me from all worries on that score; you’d think that even a bad doctor on a bad day would feel better than a good drug dealer on a good day, but I suspect that this might not be true. I suspect that drug dealers have days when everything clicks, and it’s all buzz buzz buzz, and they chalk off their jobs one by one, and they return home with a sense of accomplishment. Whereas I have days when I have been rude to people, and very little help, and I can see in my patients’ eyes that they feel fobbed off, misunderstood, uncared-for (Hello, Mrs. Cortenza! Hello, Barmy Brian!), and I never ever do my paperwork, and all the insurance claims are shoved straight to the bottom of my in-tray, and I promised at the last surgery meeting that I would write to our local MP about how refugees are being denied access to practices and I haven’t done the first thing about it...

It’s not enough just to be a doctor; you have to be a good doctor, you have to be nice to people, you have to be conscientious and dedicated and wise, and though I enter the surgery each morning with the determination to be exactly those things, it only takes a couple of my favourite patients—a Barmy Brian, say, or one of the sixty-a-day smokers who are aggressive about my failure to deal with their chest complaints—and I’m ill-tempered, sarcastic, bored.

© 2003 Association of American Medical Colleges