“The Devil Wears Scrubs” by Dr. Freida McFadden is both a truthful exposition and a delightful narrative about working in any medical hierarchy as told by a midsummer’s intern. But our narrator isn’t just any intern: she’s “Doctor” Jane McGill, whose personality alone is so well defined I feel like I should be able to page her to come take a look at any of my patients. But I suppose that should be expected; although this is Dr. McFadden’s first novel, she is an adept blogger, whose work can be found at http://almost.thedoctorschannel.com/contributor/dr-fizzy/ as well as on her own personal blog, http://doccartoon.blogspot.com/, and she understands how medical—and aspiring medical—professional think.
When we first meet our intern Jane, she is lost and confused. No, seriously. Not only does she get into a passive aggressive (so by medical student standards, an incredibly violent) confrontation with her new roommate over eating utensils, she gets lost in the community hospital that houses her residency program and shows up one minute late to the resident lounge on her first day. A minor mistake, perhaps. But one that immediately sets her up for perpetual conflict with the Devil in this novel’s title: Alyssa, her senior resident, whom she will spend most of the rest of the novel trying to placate at the expense of her own needs and much of her own sanity. While a lesser author may have made Alyssa out to be a stagnantly evil antagonist, in this novel, Alyssa intermittently shows signs of being a human, before snapping back into an overly critical, impossible-to-exist-next-to terrorist-doctor. Tantalizingly close to humane, it is only in the last few pages that we really get enough evidence to determine whether or not this devil has any good reason to be so evil. And I think it really depends on the reader’s experience within the medical education system. If you’ve had an attending just tell you your patient presentations are at a first year’s level (not that I have ever experienced this personally…), well then Alyssa is a terrible, terrible person.
Indeed, one of the great beauties of this book is that it is so comforting. Of all the books I’ve had to read in the last two-and-a-half years of medical school, this is the only one that has made me feel okay with myself. All the other one’s were irrelevant or made me feel like my incompetence would only continue to grow (I’m looking at you, First Aid for Step 1). “The Devil Wears Scrubs” is really calming if only by allowing you to live in the mind of someone whose life is far worse. For that reason, I don’t know how this novel would be interpreted by actual interns, currently in the cross hairs. But I think the most endearing quality about Jane, for me, is that she really does represent the average medical student. Nobody can complain so much while also firing away so quickly so many self-deprecating declarations as a medical student, and Jane does just that.
The rest of the novel is more or less equally entertaining. The characters–the other residents, the patients, the attendings–are all so well created that I kind of wonder if they weren’t directly based on real people. To that end, the author, when questioned, has said that this book is “largely based on [her] real experiences….50% true, 25% exaggerated, and 25% fiction.” I think this is why I really couldn’t put it down–to the detriment of my overnight emergency medicine shifts (don’t worry, I did well on the shelf and I didn’t not do chest compressions on a coding patient). As a medical student, it’s like getting the inside scoop… or better yet getting a personal mentor. And if you finish this book and want to recommend it to a non-medically inclined friend (which you should definitely do, since this is probably the easiest and funniest read on the experience of residents you could ever find), Dr. McFadden is quick to explain medical situations and their associated jargon where needed.
The only part of the novel that I had a hard time believing was the somewhat forced romance between our main character and Ryan, a tall and mysterious surgery resident who is attracted to our ever-frazzled intern, and who somehow keeps running into her in the hospital, despite the fact that I have a hard time running into my own residents at my community hospital. But in the end, not only do I realize that Jane deserves someone like Ryan, it turns out that even he is a layered and complex character with a series of shocking twists of his own. (I screamed when I got to a particularly epic detail, yelling, “OH MY GOD! This is the only thing that could have ever made sense!” to my empty apartment).
It’s really hard to find a book equal parts truth, trepidation, hilarity, and melodrama. Medicine—not just its study but its practice—is comprised of all of these things. The fact that it is written by a woman about a female intern just makes it easier to love. Jane slowly develops into her own and although she’s far from a perfect physician by the end, she manages to realize herself just enough to suggest that her trials and tribulations have kind of been worth it.
I was able to ask the author several questions about her text. I have included the following for your viewing:
-What made you want to write a novel like this? Medical fiction is relatively rare, and a story equal parts hilarity, melodrama, and actualdrama as told by a female narrator is rarer still. Or did you just kind of realize you had a lot to say about your intern year?
I just felt that I had an experience worth telling. And after I read The Devil Wears Prada, I thought, “Puh, intern year is MUCH worse than that!”
– Is this your first novel? Do you have any other publications out for perusal?
It’s my first novel, although you can buy the cartoons from my blog in book form:
– For anyone interested in purchasing “The Devil Wears Scrubs”, how would they do so?
Available on Amazon: