The Intern Blues

The Book of the Week is “The Intern Blues, The Timeless Classic About the Making of a Doctor” by Robert Marion, published in 2012.  This ebook documents the internship experiences of three medical school graduates in the mid 1980’s.

At that time, interns were “on call”– had to work eighteen to twenty-four hours in a row, usually overnight, in a hospital every three days. Every month for an entire year, the interns in this ebook were assigned to a different unit such as pediatrics, neonatal intensive care, or the emergency room, at a medical center in the Bronx in New York City.

The hospital staff was kept busy treating patients with conditions whose causes were poverty-related— people in poor health, and those who suffered physical harm from violence and drugs. Many patients and their families had psychological problems. One intern remarked, “…we have two psychotic crackheads roaming around the ER, we also had two psychotic crackheads who were paranoid and had no idea what was going on, which is a wonderful combination.”

Severely sleep-deprived, along with doing a ton of paperwork and presentations, the interns had to admit patients, keep “…track of names, symptoms, physical findings, lab results, and treatments…”  They witnessed life-or-death situations for which they felt they were not psychologically prepared. They had to tell patients’ families that their loved ones had died, make serious decisions on whether to report child abuse to the authorities (which was a whole bureaucratic process itself), deal with difficult nurses and lab technicians, not to mention their supervisors; all this, along with the extremely stressful circumstances surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

On top of that, one of the three interns became pregnant during her internship. Read the book to learn how that worked out for her, and to get an insider’s view of what it was like to be a medical intern a few decades ago.