Life on the line Young doctors come of age in a pandemic

Emma Goldberg

Book - 2021

Weaving together in-depth interviews with doctors, their diaries, and notes, this page-turning account follows the medical students who received their degrees early to help treat thousands of critically ill COVID-19 patients in New York City during the height of the pandemic.

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New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2021]
First edition
Physical Description
295 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 283-295).
Main Author
Emma Goldberg (author)
Review by Booklist Review

Tragically, around 3,000 health professionals caring for COVID-19 patients have died from the illness in the U.S. at this time. Journalist Goldberg reports on the unusual experiences of six valiant, hardworking physicians in their twenties who opted to graduate from medical school three months early to work temporarily in overwhelmed hospitals in New York during the first half of 2020. It is a diverse group in regard to religion, ethnicity, and sexual identity. What they have in common is a striking sense of altruism, empathy, and devotion to duty. They're also understandably fretful about their inexperience as newly minted MDs and the potential for contracting COVID-19. Memorable, emotional, and even everyday anecdotes fill the pages. One young doctor spots a long white truck lettered "Dead Inside" that's parked outside the hospital. An overwhelming miasma of grief and loss hovers over medical personnel, patients, and families alike. Goldberg's close-up look at inspiring, fast-tracked med-school graduates who became essential front-line pandemic physicians is bracing and invaluable. Still with lots to learn, these heroes already have so much to offer.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

New York Times reporter Goldberg debuts with a vivid and heart-wrenching portrayal of six doctors who graduated from medical school during the "first-wave peak" of Covid-19 in New York City. As the surge of cases "hit New York hospitals like a tsunami" in March and April 2020, some medical schools graduated fourth year students early so they could work at understaffed hospitals. Goldberg delves into the challenges her subjects, including the daughter of immigrants who practice traditional Chinese medicine and a young Hispanic woman raised by a single mother, faced as the health-care system failed to keep up with the demand for ventilators and personal protective equipment. Even Bellevue, one of America's "most storied" hospitals and the nation's leader in AIDS treatment, misjudged the threat: in January 2020, staffers were told that the "risk to New Yorkers is considered low." Goldberg also sketches the history of medical training in the U.S., noting that reform efforts in the early 20th century led to the closure of Black medical schools and the rise of programs "designed for exclusivity," and offers poignant scenes of her subjects coming to grips with the life and death nature of their work. This is a raw and emotional depiction of young professionals thrust into the middle of a crisis. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Goldberg expands on her reporting for the New York Times to tell the story of the young medical students in New York City whose newly assigned residencies in March 2020 put them front and center in the battle against the coronavirus. They took the Hippocratic oath via Zoom, then headed out to big New York hospitals like Bellevue and Montefiore that were under extreme stress. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A moving account of six medical students who graduated early in order to join the battle against Covid-19. New York Times journalist Goldberg sets her scene close to home at Bellevue Hospital and Montefiore Medical Center, both of which were already understaffed and overwhelmed in April 2020. Medical schools teach essentials during the first three years; the fourth is generally elective, so leaving early is an option, and all New York City medical schools asked for volunteers during the pandemic. Not everyone stepped up, but the author offers appreciative profiles of those who did. Readers who hear that Covid-19 kills only a small percentage of its victims, comparable to the flu, will be shocked at the horrific suffering that her young doctors witnessed. Entering through the respiratory tract, the virus attacks the lungs, often leading to pneumonia and respiratory failure so severe that patients require a ventilator. However, early on, half of patients placed on a ventilator died. "Another challenge for the new doctors," writes Goldberg, "was the pervasive fear of infection. For the most part, neither senior physicians nor new graduates had been trained to worry for their lives while caring for patients." All struggled to establish trust while spending minimal time near patients and wearing bulky protective equipment that covered their faces. Although Goldberg's subjects seem to be the crème de la crème of the medical profession, she digresses liberally into the establishment's shortcomings. "American medical schools are still predominantly white and wealthy," she writes. "This is partly because doctors are predominantly white and wealthy, and doctors tend to beget doctors." White doctors spend more time with White than non-White patients, but Covid-19 kills far more poor and non-White victims, which is sadly true for most diseases. Goldberg concludes that the medical establishment is making a genuine effort to broaden medical culture and attract minorities, and her heroes, an admirably diverse group, are contributing mightily. An inspiring story of a group of young doctors who endured a trial by fire. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.