Also Human by Caroline Elton reviewed

Also Human Book Cover Also Human
Caroline Elton
Non Fiction
William Heinemann
March 15, 2018

A psychologist's stories of doctors who seek to help others but struggle to help themselves.

Doctors are the people we turn to when we fall ill. They are the people we trust with our lives, and with the lives of those we love. Yet who can doctors turn to at moments of stress, or when their own working lives break down?

What does it take to confront death, disease, distress and suffering every day? To work in a healthcare system that is stretched to breaking point? To carry the responsibility of making decisions that can irrevocably change someone’s life – or possibly end it? And how do doctors cope with their own questions and fears, when they are expected to have all the answers?

Caroline Elton is a psychologist who specialises in helping doctors. For over twenty years she has listened as doctors have unburdened themselves of the pressures of their jobs: the obstetrician whose own fertility treatment failed; the trainee oncologist who found herself unable to treat patients suffering from the disease that killed her father; the brilliant neurosurgeon struggling to progress her career in an environment that was hostile to women. Drawing on extraordinary case studies and decades of work supporting clinicians, Also Human presents a provocative, perceptive and deeply humane examination of the modern medical profession.

pathy for, the very real struggles of those who hold power over life and death.

A combination of some experience in psychology and an interest in the medical profession made this book appealing to me. Caroline Elton, the author of Also Human, is a vocational psychologist with considerable experience dealing with doctors. In this book she seeks to discuss issues affecting doctors illustrated with case studies from her own experience. She also looks at the topic of training doctors – particularly new ones in the UK and in other countries too. She starts with a statement of her background and aspects of the reality of being a doctor in the NHS .

The first chapter focusses on first year doctors in particular. The statistics for outcomes in the first week of August (when doctors first start work on wards) speak for themselves. The individual cases serve to underpin the statistics. The author makes some pertinent and, to me, intelligent observations on the issues and it simply emphasises the fact that the system is in need of review.

A number of areas where doctors have issues with their work are looked at in subsequent chapters. Those who have joined the medical profession because of incidents in their family which then cause them problems when treating particular conditions is an example. However both gender and sexuality are looked at too as well as other pressures on doctors.

There are some real gems in this book. The chapter that includes hospice care and training there was excellent for example. In general the chapters start with a case study by way of introduction. Other case studies are often offered. Then there is consideration of the issues at a more general level. The author then returns to the original case study. On a number of chapters this felt rather drawn out to me.

Without question this book shows doctors as “also human” living up to the title. It also shows them as laudable, dedicated and flawed. The system and underlying structure of the education and development of doctors is really in need of careful review. I did find that the gems in this book could be quite hard to extract from the narrative.

In part academic, in part case study based, this book feels as though it can’t make up its mind which it wants to be. There are no references here (although mine was an advance copy so presumably that might change) despite extensive mentions of research and publications . Equally there was no “further reading” section which I would have thought appropriate. Ultimately I’m not clear who this book is aimed at. It is not truly an academic book. I did not find it particularly readable compared with a number of other similar books I’ve read and reviewed. It is of interest but maybe the audience for it is a little limited sadly.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review