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4.4 out of 5 stars53
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 25 November 2002
Have you ever wondered what's going on behind the impassive, professional countenance of a hospital doctor? Have you ever considered those early years in their careers that they spend on wards? How it is that on the day they graduate from medical school they suddenly have all the answers? Well, they don't.
"House of God" is Samuel Shem's account of his year as an intern, the first year after medical school (in the UK they're called House Officers).
He captures the intensity of the experience perfectly, and the humour that helped him survive makes this book one of the funniest I have ever read.
Behind the laughter is a serious account of how he came close to the edge mentally during that first year. The limits of medicine are also revealed, disturbingly for the lay-patient with a naive belief that modern doctors can cure anyone who reaches hospital alive, and there are some sobering conclusions about how we treat the elderly for those who wish to draw them.
But I wouldn't want to mislead you - this is above all a hilarious account of a year in the life of a junior doctor in those carefree 70s when alcohol and sex were still recreations and not merely pathologies. The hard edge beneath makes that humour all the more effective, and the occasional tragic event makes the laughter as necessary for the reader's emotional well being as it was for the author.
Buy it, read it, and wonder why you had never come across this masterpiece before.
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on 5 September 2007
Samuel Shem's take on the first year of being a Doctor, the internship, is an excellent account of the destruction of the ideology of Medicine and the gradual erosion of innocence within this context.

Basch, Shem's protagonist is introduced to the daily practicalities of being an Intern, by The Fat Man who kicks Basch's lofty ideals out from under him, giving him the cynical know-how to survive the ordeal. Basch turns from being shocked at such disrespect, to eventualy embracing it and losing his own humanity.

Shem chronicles Basch's use of sex, humour, cynicism and finally denial as tools to survive the onslaught from the patients and the Institution's inane ethos of treating their patients to death. What struck resonance with myself was not only the connection with medicine (having been the equivalent of an intern myself) but the analogy (intended or not) with growing up and the loss of childhood belief and innocence. This belief is something that society maintains when it comes to medicine, a belief that everyone (or at least many) can be cured, and that Doctors can do it.

Basch's journey is that of discovering the true meaning of being a Doctor and rather than becoming permanently jaded and disillusioned, he finds the balance between reality and holding on to the origin of why he chose medicine as a career. This is an excellent read, evoking thought and reflection, truly a memorable book that I took something away from. I look forward to Shem's book on his experience within psychiatry.
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on 17 December 2003
this is the original and much imitated "oh no i'm losing the plot and i'm a junior doctor" book. he gets a bit emotional and cheesy sometimes, but its a great collection of the best mess gags.
theres another excellent english junior doctor book by michael foxton called 'bedside stories' which is the angry NHS junior doctor column guy who wrote for the guardian, and thats hilarious and horrible.
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on 12 January 1999
A book of wry wit and black humour which rightly deserves its cult status amongst doctors. I suspect that much of its off-beat message will miss a non-medical reader, and that which is understood may not enhance the reputation of the the followers of Hippocrates.
The total lack of support from management and bosses, black humour as a coping mechanism and the sad toll on the morale, altruism and wellbeing of doctors is all too vividly brought home.
The "Laws of the House of God" are remembered by those doctors who read this book long after the professorial lectures on pathology and pharmacology have sunk into (blissful) oblivion.
Buy it, read it, and enjoy.
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on 5 February 2010
A lively and bawdy account of medical training in the USA 40 years ago, based on the author's experience, which became a classic plea for humanity in the treatment of patients. Unfortunately the issues behind it are still relevant, and I am going to present it to my granddaughter, currently a medical student, and see what she thinks.
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on 5 September 2003
There's a difference between being a competent technician capable of diagnosing and treating cases and being a good doctor. This book is a cautionary tale of ill-prepared junior medical staff falling into the trap of becoming technicians when faced with the enormity of suffering that disease inflicts upon us. It is superficially quite funny (I remember chuckling over it in my last year of medical school) with its tales of GOMERs and the means by which to 'turf' patients (ie no longer have responsibility for them). But at its core it's a dark and tragic tale of Bergman's near-breakdown at the end of his internship year. Focus on the humour and you're not only missing the point, you run the risk of falling into the same trap.
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on 1 February 2014
Had this book recommended to me by several senior doctors (usually in the context of complaining about the health service, patients or colleagues). They all seemed to think it was edgy and controversial - a glimpse into the 'real' world of healthcare and revealing the untold truths about how doctors view their patients and each other. In reality, the content is far from revelatory; it is rather old-hat and underwhelming.

The book hasn't aged well and has lost much of its relevance to modern medicine. However, it is mildly interesting from a historical perspective.

The introduction (written in 1995) claims the book to be outrageous and compares it to Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Nothing in this book is as clever or funny as Catch-22. As for outrageous, I got the end and wondered if I had missed the chapter where the outrageous stuff happened.

Perhaps this book is still eye-popping to those who are new to medicine and are, as yet, unjaded. I wonder if those doctors who recommended I read The House of God would still view it as edgy and controversial.

There are many other books, since published, that offer the reader a more modern perspective on medicine that I would recommend before bothering with The House of God: In Stitches by Nick Edwards; Sick Notes by Tony Copperfield; Trust Me, I'm a Junior doctor by Max Pemberton.
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on 25 June 2009
Essential reading for all medical students and doctors of all ages - black humour steeped in humanity - when you are in hospital as a patient, hope for "The Fat Man" who relies on your body to heal itself. Watch out for nearly all others. The humour was the only way to survive the system. A classic - generally voted near the top of lists of books to read by doctors - so we recognise ourselves in there somewhere - and of course all our colleagues! Trust me you need a doctor with a sense of humour!
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on 4 August 2010
a must-buy gift for your favorite med student.
amazon delivered international in less than a week!
thanks amazon uk!!
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on 6 January 2012
a great book, humorous and makes you think about how to practice and how not to practice medicine. a work of fiction yes but plenty of parallels to real life and medicine stay true. couldn't recommend it too much.
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