Review: Reluctant Intern: BIll Yancey

Reluctant Intern deserves a place in the ranks of excellent medical novels. Most medical novels are either so far-fetched as to be impossible, or so poorly written as to leave the reader with an intestinal disorder. This book is not in that category. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will be totally taken in by Addison Wolfe and his adventures as an intern.

Addison Wolfe, the reluctant intern in the title of Dr. Bill Yancey's book, fell into medicine when his vision kept him out of NASA's astronaut program. When this story takes place, in the mid-1970's, everyone wanted to be an astronaut, but becoming an astronaut was a far more selective process than medical school, so that's how Addison ends up on July 1, as a new intern in what Dr. Figueroa, the Director of Medical Education at his hospital, calls the worst internship program in the worst hospital in the US (in Florida). Interns end up there because no other hospital want them.

The story starts with a nightmare in the present time, when Addison sits bolt upright in bed having had a terrible flashback of his internship days. He calms himself back to sleep by telling himself that it was just a dream. What follows is a real flashback to Addison's intern year - a year that is full of medical and personal adventure. I think this is the best medical novel I have ever read. Addison's experiences as he rotates through the various hospital departments ring true, and only someone who lived them, as did the author, could write about them with such attention to detail and clarity. Addison's experience in the armed forces and his time spent studying medicine for astronauts serves him well, to his happiness and the surprise of his teachers. We follow his journey as he becomes interested in emergency medicine as a career - a field that was just beginning to emerge as he goes through his internship.

BUT, the story is much more than a case history of Addison's internship and of the cases and patients he encounters. The book is full of interesting characters - his colleagues, the senior residents and attending physicians he works with and learns from, and the bane of the interns' existence, Dr. Figueroa. Dr. Figueroa is a menacing, malignant, ever-present critic of his charges. He takes pride in public humiliation and when an intern challenges him, the intern disappears from the hospital the next day. When Addison and his colleagues go before him for their progress reviews, they are uniformly told that they are not doing well enough, that they need to study more, and that their internship might need to be extended so they can make up for their deficiencies. When Addison finally has the chance to read the progress reviews written by his supervising physicians, he is shocked to learn that they uniformly gave him high praise for his expertise and willingness to jump in when needed - information that Dr. Figueroa mysteriously, but purposely, ignores in order to humiliate the interns who need good progress reports to get into decent residency programs. Addison and his friends hatch a plot to play on Dr. Figueroa's hypochondria, by altering his lab tests so that abnormal values appear, leading Dr. F. down a long, winding road of test after altered test, until he is convinced of his ultimate demise.

Addison has an on again, off again, relationship with one of his fellow interns, Samantha, whose behavior becomes more and more peculiar, ultimately bizarre, as the story unfolds. In the middle of the story, Addison meets a stewardess and begins a relationship with her, sending her to Sam as a temporary roommate. Naturally Sam does everything in her power to sabotage this burgeoning love, and almost succeeds, but ....well, I can't say more about that without revealing what happens.

The book builds to a remarkable, unexpected conclusion that at first I found far-fetched, but ultimately realized that it was a bang-up way to end the story, and sometimes a bit of a leap of faith is necessary.

Dr. Yancey writes in a very comfortable, almost conversational style. The dialogue rings true, as do the experiences of Addison and his friends (and enemies). This is an easy read that won't bore you with too much medical detail - in fact, the medical detail is what really binds the story of Addison's internship year together - and it won't sidetrack you with heaving bosoms with strategically placed stethoscopes, plagues, poison in the anesthesia, or strange surgical deaths that can't be explained, either. That is the stuff of second-rate novels. This is a first-rate novel, written by a physician. While a work of fiction, the details are so accurate that you can't help but think a lot of the story is based on Dr. Yancey's actual experiences.

I entered but did not win the Goodreads giveaway for this book. The author contacted me and offered it to me in exchange for an honest review.