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Number 12: Summer 2016

Review: Doctors Dissected. Jane Haynes and Martin Scurr, London, Quartet Books. 2015 ISBN 9780704374058

Barbara Cawdron

There is also an explicitly political dimension to Doctors Dissected, as stated in the introduction: the loss of the traditional role and function of the family GP, caring for their patients from cradle to grave; and the increasing frustrations of working within the NHS. However, the format of the book means that it is skewed towards the personal, leaving the political to be read predominantly through each individual’s experience. It is left very much to the reader to draw their own conclusions about, for example, what draws people into medicine, or drives them out of the NHS. This could be frustrating, as it was easy to get caught up in the detail of each individual but lose what may be universal in their experiences. The lack of any overarching narrative to the book leaves the bigger questions, for me, underexplored; seen only through the experience of each individual.

How Jane Haynes selected her interviewees is not explained, though the introduction makes clear that this is not an attempt at quantitative research. There are a couple of apparently coincidental overlaps between interviewees: Caroline, the subject of chapter five, describes an incident that sounds very familiar, until we and Haynes notice that it is the same incident told to her by Cosmo, Martin’s son, in an earlier interview; and Ben (chapter six) goes to locum for Martin Scurr when he takes a sabbatical. This leaves an impression of another small, if not quite closed world; predominantly London-based and predominantly populated by well-connected, even inter-connected people.

One possible answer to Scurr’s question is that it is the closed world of medicine that draws the children of medics to choose to join it, combined with a desire to dissect, to get under the skin of another closed world, that of the body. Perhaps psychotherapists too are drawn to closed worlds with a corresponding desire to dissect them. The title reminded me of Adam Phillips citing Harold Searles in the preface to his book Equals, that those who are drawn to this work may resemble surgeons in their harbouring ‘powerful, long-repressed desires to dismember’. For psychotherapists reading this book, what they may be left with is a desire to know more, to go further into each portrait, and explore those repressed desires, or conversely to stand further back, to reach conclusions about the nature of this world. As with any psychotherapeutic enterprise, these portraits shift the reader’s focus continually between that which can be universally conceived, and the peculiar, intimate, unique world of the individual.

Reference 

Phillips, A. (2002) Equals, London: Faber and Faber.