Final Exam

Posted on July 11, 2007
Filed Under Book Reviews | Leave a Comment

final-exam-1.pngMost people do not enjoy going to see a doctor for a variety of reasons, among those reasons is a natural hesitancy to deal with our own mortality.  It was fascinating to learn that many doctors themselves are not very good at dealing with my mortality also.

In the book Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality
(Alfred A. Knopf, January 2007), Pauline Chen draws upon her own experiences going through medical school and years of practice as a transplant surgeon to reflect on mortality.  Far from being morbid, Final Exam is an insightful look into the medical profession and the great lengths doctors go toward saving life and the difficulty they have in dealing with death.

Final Exam
will help you appreciate the challenges your doctors face as they treat patients and cause all of us to think about our breadth of life.


Pauline Chen graduated from Harvard University and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and completed her surgical training at Yale University, the National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health), and UCLA..  In 1999, she was named the UCLA Outstanding Physician of the Year.

The following is a review of Final Exam From Publishers Weekly, “Like most physicians, Chen, a transplant surgeon and former UCLA faculty member, entered medicine in order to save lives. But as a medical student in the 1980s, she discovered that she had to face death repeatedly and “found disturbing inconsistencies” as she learned from teachers and colleagues “to suspend or suppress any shared human feelings for my dying patients.” Chen writes with immaculately honed prose and moral passion as she recounts her quest to overcome “lessons in denial and depersonalization,” vividly evoking the paradoxes of end-of-life care in an age of life-preserving treatments. Chen charts her personal and professional rites of passage in dealing with mortality, from her first dissection of a human cadaver, through the first time she pronounces a patient dead, to having to officially take responsibility for the accidental death of a patient in her care. Focusing on the enormous moral and psychological pressures on doctors and on the need for greater empathy in hospital end-of-life care, Chen also reports on signs of change within the profession …“


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