Monday, June 04, 2012

In Stitches: A Book Review

The pun in the title of In Stitches by Anthony Youn, MD is the first big clue to the tone and content of this light-hearted book about the medical and life education of Dr. Youn. The book describes how Dr. Youn grew up in the U.S. as a bit of an outcast but fashioned a career as a plastic surgeon out of his experiences. The book has two main threads essentially running parallel: Tony's development from boy to man, and Dr. Youn's emergence from student to physician. In many ways, the dichotomy is something all medical students struggle with to some degree, given the degree of commitment this profession requires.

The first act of the book focuses on Dr. Youn's upbringing. Born to two hard-working Korean parents growing up in small town Michigan with his brother. His father early on instills in him the importance of dedication and sets a career goal of becoming a physician. His father had grown up in difficult conditions, but through perseverance, had thrived, running a successful OB/GYN practice in the town the family settled in. In many ways, Dr. Youn's recounting of his youth is a realistic retelling of the "American Dream", warts and all. While the net result is success, it does not come without sacrifice and struggle. There is a bit of a lull as Dr. Youn describes his high school and college (mis?)adventures. There was a bit too much of teenage awkwardness for my tastes, without tying back to the other thread of the development of Dr. Youn.

The pace picks up as Dr. Youn enters medical school and begins to form the relationships that will in turn make him the physician he is destined to be. There is still a bit of the hijinks of his high school year, but the evolution is apparent in the writing. The book's high point comes when Dr. Youn enters the wards as a third year medical student. The story regarding how he handles his first 'difficult' patient is particularly poignant. The vignette embodies what is meant by empathy in medicine. While cliche, such moments show just how 'actions speak louder than words.' While at times, I wished to have more insight on why Dr. Youn chose medicine initially (other than his father's insistence) and how he developed his passion, it is clear from the writing that Dr. Youn cares deeply about his profession.

Ultimately, In Stitches is a wonderful, light-hearted narrative of one person's transformation from outsider to professional. Even for readers not pursuing medicine, the book offers lots of laughs for anyone who has ever felt different.

Updated 2015-12-25

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