Book Review: The White Coat Diaries by Madi Sinha

Title: The White Coat Diaries
Author: Madi Sinha
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 15, 2020
Print length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Grey’s Anatomy meets Scrubs in this brilliant debut novel about a young doctor’s struggle to survive residency, love, and life.

Having spent the last twenty-something years with her nose in a textbook, brilliant and driven Norah Kapadia has just landed the medical residency of her dreams. But after a disastrous first day, she’s ready to quit. Disgruntled patients, sleep deprivation, and her duty to be the “perfect Indian daughter” have her questioning her future as a doctor.

Enter chief resident Ethan Cantor. He’s everything Norah aspires to be: respected by the attendings, calm during emergencies, and charismatic with the patients. As he morphs from Norah’s mentor to something more, it seems her luck is finally changing.

When a fatal medical mistake is made, pulling Norah into a cover-up, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the secret. What if “doing no harm” means risking her career and the future for which she’s worked so hard?

In this debut novel, written by a physician, we get a close-up-and-personal view of the life of a medical intern through the eyes and experiences of Norah Kapadia.

Norah is just starting out as an intern at the prestigious Philadelphia General Hospital, hoping to live up to her personal dream of becoming a doctor that her late father would be proud of. Internship, as we all know, is one of the roughest years in a young doctor’s professional development. Insane hours, lack of experience, lack of sleep — all contribute to the frenetic pace and intense pressure on Norah and the other interns in her cohort. Not all will make it through the year.

In addition to the professional challenges, Norah is also dealing with a demanding family who basically want her to quit, take a boring lab job, and devote herself to her hypochondriac mother’s 24/7 care. Nothing she does is good enough, despite her huge achievements thus far.

As an intern, Norah learns that her stellar book learning and years of studying to the exclusion of having a life have not truly prepared her for the real work of treating patients in a hospital. She makes some big mistakes, but so do the others, and their supervising residents vary between supportive and absolutely demeaning.

The tone of the book is very mixed. From the synopsis above, with its comparison to Scrubs, you might expect this book to be comedic in tone, and while there are some humorous episodes, it’s really not a funny book overall. In fact, it’s pretty dire at times, and the situations facing Norah and the other interns can be distressing and disturbing.

We’ve all heard about interns’ crazy hours and lack of sleep. Here, in The White Coat Diaries, we see how it feels to be an intern, and it’s not pretty. The mistakes can be devastating, and I found the lack of compassion and true caring about patients pretty upsetting. There’s one patient who gets passed from department to department and is known by the hospital staff as “Fat Dan”, and honestly, if that’s based on a real life experience, that’s just a really sad commentary on the state of medical practice today.

I wanted to like Norah, but she makes some very questionable decisions in her personal life that really affected my view of her. And then there’s the major ethical crisis stemming from a critical medical mistake (mentioned in the synopsis), which is horribly handled and left me feeling that none of the characters, including Norah, had any integrity whatsoever. From that point onward, it was very difficult to care about Norah or any of the characters in the slightest.

I also felt that Norah’s home life and family should have been explored further. We get snippets of her background and how her Indian-American upbringing affect her career choices and work ethic, but I wished it had been a little more fleshed out and developed.

Overall, The White Coat Diaries is a fast and absorbing read, but definitely isn’t as light or cheerful as the cover and description might make it seem. If The White Coat Diaries is a somewhat accurate depiction of the intern experience, then we should all be very worried about the future of the medical profession in the US.