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Breaking and Mending: A junior doctor’s stories of compassion and burnout, by Joanna Cannon

29 November 2019

Nick Goulding finds this ’wild-card’ doctor a compelling storyteller

WE HOPE that the doctor standing by the side of our hospital bed or sitting across the desk in the consulting room has all the medical knowledge and clinical experience needed to address our problem. Do we really understand what they have gone through as medical students and junior doctors to bring them to that point? Whether their interaction with us is a mere 15 minutes, or a relationship that endures for decades, they are immensely important people in our lives.

In Breaking and Mending, Dr Joanna Cannon reveals the person behind the white coat and stethoscope, and it is not the stereotypical image of a junior doctor which we might expect. The author is a psychiatrist and also a bestselling novelist. This offering, although theoretically in the non-fiction genre, underlines her skills as a storyteller par excellence. She writes with poise and compassion, and her short episodic chapters are compelling and engrossing.

She defines herself as a “wild card”: someone who, when a student and junior doctor, refused to be squeezed into a conventional mould of unquestioning deference to perceived wisdom. An example of this is her refreshing and perceptive insights into the depersonalisation of patients with mental-health issues.

Her narratives describing the highs and lows of a medical professional are personal, engaging, and moving. Patients’ stories and doctors’ reflections are woven together into a vibrant tapestry, giving the reader a real sense of the complexities and paradoxes of the NHS today.

In the final chapter, the author voices a concern that, by penning her story, she might discourage potential candidates from applying for medicine and eventually becoming medical practitioners. In reality, by giving her readers her very personal and compassionate narrative with charm, humility, honesty, and integrity, the impact that she achieves is the exact opposite.

The Revd Professor Nick Goulding is Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Breaking and Mending: A junior doctor’s stories of compassion and burnout
Joanna Cannon
Profile Books/Wellcome Collection £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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