Behind the stethoscope
Book chronicles life as a medical resident, as told by one of UF’s own
By Michelle Champalanne
White coat? Check. Stethoscope? Check. Notebook? Check. Most medical students know how to prepare for their residency. But few know exactly what to expect. A new humorous — and at times serious — memoir penned by UF’s Scott Rivkees, M.D., highlights what residency is truly like, and what the medical school textbooks don’t teach, like how to survive long weeks, sleepless nights and whirlwind days at the hospital.
Published April 1, “Resident On Call: A Doctor’s Reflections on His First Years at Mass General” chronicles the residency of Rivkees, now chair of the College of Medicine department of pediatrics. The book has already received accolades from The Washington Post and Kirkus Reviews.
“People’s vision of physicians and how they got to where they are doesn’t exactly mesh with what happens in the real world,” Rivkees said. “It’s more than books. It’s more than lectures. It’s really about the hands-on, everyday experiences.”
After graduating from medical school, physicians undergo additional training in their chosen specialties. Residency lasts anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the specialty. Rivkees completed his three-year residency in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 1985.
In the book, Rivkees recounts his memories of training in a Harvard-affiliated hospital informally called “Man’s Greatest Hospital,” the day-to-day experiences, different faculty members and the various patients he saw.
“You’re exposed to so many different things in medical training,” he said. “Collectively they all add up to one amazing experience.”
Rivkees started the book in 2011, the year before he came to UF to lead the department of pediatrics. He got the idea for the book after reading several novels featuring medicine. He felt inspired to share his experiences and personal stories as a resident.
“Reflecting back over the years, it makes you see what a special time that was and how all these different events coalesce to make us the kind of physicians that we are,” he said. He also emphasized that the book is a collection of interesting stories rather than a serious memoir.
“This is deliberately not a heavy introspective book about the making of a doctor,” he said.
Reviewer Jeffrey Gruen, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Yale University, writes, “Dr. Rivkees is one of the leading pediatric endocrinologists in the world. It is clear that his medical acumen and keen insights came from training at an elite institution. Dr. Rivkees’ poignant and wacky stories show just how special this training was.”
Rivkees did not keep a journal throughout his residency so he wrote the book based on memory. With past experience as an editor for a medical journal, writing came easily to him, he said. It’s also his third book, albeit the first piece he has written for a general audience.
“As I started writing it, a lot of episodes that make up this book came back to me,” he said. “When they happened, they were interesting events that stick with you forever.”