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REVIEW: The House of God by Dr. Samuel Shem

Dear Dr. Shem,

The House of GodI read your book, The House of God, years ago when I was still in college majoring in my health care field. Hmmm, make that years and years ago. Anyway, I laughed my ass off then and I just did it again while rereading the (probably only slightly) fictionalized account your internship year in medicine. I gave a copy to a friend of mine when she started her internship year at the University of Florida. She slowly read it during the 3-4 free minutes she had each day that year. When she finally finished it, all she said was, “Yeah, that’s about it.” She survived her right of passage and has been practicing in internal medicine for over 10 years now.

People who don’t work in teaching hospitals will probably gasp and goggle in disbelief and horror at how you describe that first year of medical teaching as a doctor but I’ve trained and worked in teaching facilities and I’m here to tell them that it’s (mostly) all true. Every horrible, hilarious, “black as the angel of death” humorous moment of it. I’ve seen medical students and interns crack under the strain, learn more with one terribly sick patient in the middle of the night than in 10 lectures and fight to remain human through it all. Some of the medicine has changed over the years (we no longer give aspirin to children, keep most patients in the hospital for weeks at a time or hand out valium like candy) and the basic training has improved a little but medical training still has a long way to go. God bless all of the young doctors out in the trenches of modern health care and remember, when you hear hoof beats, look for horses and not zebras.


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Keishon
    May 31, 2006 @ 08:10:08

    I loved that documentary on PBS: so, do you want to be doctor? Or something like that. I think I’ve seen that book at the bookstore and read pieces of it. I just started watching Grey’s Anatomy. All of babbling is leading to something, oh, that I didn’t want to be a doctor.

  2. Jayne
    May 31, 2006 @ 08:20:00

    Is the PBS documentary the one where they followed a handful of students at (I think) Harvard Med School through their medical school years then 1-2 years into their internships? I saw bits and pieces of that too. Or are you talking about the show on TLC that follows residents? There was a promo blurb for that where one intern says something like, “I just hope I don’t kill anybody this year.”

    I got over thinking about being a doctor very quickly. Body fluids. Too many body fluids. During her training, my doctor friend used to sigh and say, “I should have gone into your field. I’d be making money now. I’d have a life. I wouldn’t be oncall every third night.” ;)

  3. Keishon
    May 31, 2006 @ 08:35:00

    It’s the PBS special that followed a handful of students through their first two years of hell. I remember hearing that family practice is the least picked speciality. Wonder why? What changed my mind was working cadavers. Er, no thanks.

  4. Dutch
    Jul 25, 2008 @ 13:18:03

    “Spirit of the Place” is definitely a great read.
    It's considered Mr. Shem's most ambitious work.
    Anyone interested should visit for more information

  5. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 09:07:47

    Dutch, thanks for the updated information and the link to his website.

  6. Samuel Shem
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 13:44:58

    Dear Friends,

    Thanks so much for the good words about my novel THE HOUSE OF GOD. This is the 30th anniversary of the novel, and when I wrote it I was just trying to tell the truth, with some art–and with the same humor that carried me and my guys through the hellish world of medical training. Now I’ve published what one review (Diversion Magazine, June)called “a perfect bookend to THE HOUSE OF GOD” in that it tries to understand what a doctor does with his life after learning to be a good doctor. It’s also a kind of “imagined autobiography,” about going home to be a doctor for your hometown, and joining in with the old town doc who got you into medicine in the first place. A novel of redemption–with the same humor that is necessary to get through. Pick it up. SHEM

  7. Jayne
    Jul 28, 2008 @ 06:34:14

    Thanks for stopping by Dr. Bergman. I’ll be sure to look for this newest book.

  8. martin kohn
    Aug 13, 2008 @ 08:39:39

    Hello fans of Shem/House of God/The Spirit of the Place…I’ve known and worked with Steven Bergman for many years and am thrilled that he (and his wife) will be joining us at our symposium–“Return to The House of God–(W)rites of Passage…A Journey Through Medical Resident Education 1978-2008” in Cleveland this October. Please visit our website for further information. Best, Martin Kohn, co-founder, Center for Literature, Medicine and Biomedical Humanities, Hiram College, Hiram, OH 44234

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