When I first sat down to read “Suicide Med,” written by Dr. Freida McFadden, I was expecting a novel giving a real-life description of the stresses of both medical school and residency. Although this wasn’t what the book turned out to be, it still captured a common theme in medicine: competition.
We are initially introduced to one of the characters at the start of medical school orientation. She is starting her first year at a institution nick-named “Suicide Med.” Along the way, she learns the reasoning behind the nick-name, which is that a suicide has taken place at her school every year for the past six years. We are taken through her journey of anatomy class, where she details her encounters with her fellow classmates and her experiences with her cadaver.
After reading the story through her eyes, we find ourselves back at the start of orientation, this time detailed through a different character’s perspective. This journey takes place multiple times, providing the reader with a unique interpretation of events previously described.
The book captures the competitive nature that characterizes many medical students. These students spend countless hours in the library memorizing arteries, nerves, muscles and their relationships to other anatomical structures. Romantic relationships develop between colleagues as long distance relationships crumble. In fact, the pressure to maintain relationships while performing well in the first course of medical school takes an emotional toll on several of the students. Extreme measures are taken to stay awake and sabotage other classmates such that they ultimately remain at the top of their class.
Dr. McFadden does a wonderful job entertaining the reader with stereotypes about the different “types” of medical students. Our first narrator could be described as an “air-head,” since she is so caught-up with her long-distance boyfriend that she is barely pulling off a low-pass on her quizzes. Our second narrator is a feminist, and she couldn’t care less about the material and doing well…at first. Our third narrator is a total hunk, who is pulling off the highest grades in the class while winning the hearts of many young girls. Our fourth narrator is a meek girl who is mostly unnoticed by her classmates. Our fifth narrator is a sweet young boy, who other students feel is a total nerd. Our final narrator is the bow-tie wearing anatomy professor, who harbors tremendous guilt about the past six suicides at the school. He tries to maintain fairness and to avoid another suicide as he conducts lessons about the human body and helps perform dissections. The entire time, the reader is wondering whether another suicide will take place. Dr. McFadden builds up wonderful momentum, keeping the reader hanging on the edge of their seat from chapter to chapter.
In a dramatic way, the story does elaborate on themes that I do feel are relevant to the beginning medical student. For example, the students are required to juggle other aspects of their lives; health, family, and friendships require maintenance despite the countless hours devoted to class and anatomy lab.
The weight of starting a new experience and meeting various people definitely takes a toll on romantic relationships. In the story, this leads to the development of new ones, much as it does in real life. While the novel does set forth a relationship to which the reader may find difficult to relate, it still proves entertaining.
The expectation to perform well in all aspects of school while balancing the pressures of life is overwhelmingly real for many first year medical students. The spectre of having failed your first practical exam is definitely a fear experienced by many students. I do believe that the rivalry between classmates described in the novel is somewhat exaggerated. Almost all colleagues that I know are willing to help others in need with study guides or mnemonics in order to help them succeed.
Overall, Suicide Med is a masterfully written novel that will expose you to the many themes of medical school. It will appeal to readers involved in healthcare and all others looking for a delightfully twisted, but captivating, read.
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