On Call A Doctor's Days and Nights in Residency

Emily R. Transue, M.D.

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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During her first week as an intern on the medical wards in a Seattle hospital, Dr. Emily Transue watches someone come into the emergency room in cardiac arrest and die. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before, and it was a long way from books and labs. So she decided to record her experiences as she gains confidence in putting her studies to work. The result is On Call, a series of vivid, candid, and engaging interconnected scenes from the author's three-year residency.

The stories—some funny and others tragic—depict the many patients Dr. Transue encountered. They range in scope from brief interactions in the clinic to prolonged relationships during hospitalization. There is a man newly diagnosed with lung cancer who is lyrical about his life on a sunny island far away, and a woman, just released from a breathing machine after nearly dying, who sits up and demands a cup of coffee.

Along the way, On Call describes the life of a resident physician and reflects on the manner in which the medical system treats both its patients and doctors. The book provides a window into the experiences of patients at critical junctures in life, and into the author's own experience as a new member of the medical profession.


Praise for On Call

"With humor, humility, and gentle wit, Transue leads us into the bizarre, bone-rattling world of medical training. Through her eyes, and her honest, engaging prose, we have a rare opportunity to experience the growth of a true healer. While readers may be lucky to have Transue as their guide, her patients are even luckier."—Danielle Ofri, M.D., Ph.D., editor in chief, Bellvue Literary Review and author of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellvue

"Everyone who sees a doctor needs to read this book. Dr. Transue, through her stories, gives a realistic understanding of the pressures, perseverance, and strength required for students of medicine to succeed as practitioners."—Lewis G. Maharam, M.D., FACSM, Medical Director, ING New York City Marathon
"A young physician's on-the-spot notes from her three-year residency in internal medicine, shaped into a collection of pithy, revealing little stories. The stories, which range in length from a couple of pages to a dozen, begin with the first morning of Transue's internship and end on the last evening of her residency. The transformation from frazzled, uncertain intern to assured, competent physician is a long process, one the author reveals as exhausting, challenging, full of surprises, and often scary. Nearly half the stories take place during Transue's first year: it's as an intern that her experiences with patients are most intense, and it is the year in which she learns the most. Her rotation takes her through intensive care, cardiology, oncology, and the emergency room; death is no stranger in these places, and the narrative shows her growing acceptance of this fact of life. Throughout, the stories focus on patients and their conditions: the homeless man in ER who's covered in bugs; the battered young liver patient who insists that her boyfriend would never hurt her despite black eyes, bruises, and a broken leg; the teenager wanting her first birth-control prescription; the 70-year-old woman learning that her late husband had given her a sexually transmitted disease; the old doctor dying of prostate cancer. Transue intersperses scenes from her private life—nightclubbing, dancing, sailing, working out at the gym—that offer a sharp contrast to her experiences inside hospital walls and give the reader as well as the author respite from disease and dying. In her second year, she becomes a resident, with responsibility for interns and students as well as for patients, a role that continues in her third year. By then, the excitement has faded, but her confidence has blossomed, and she is well launched in her medical career. The perfect gift for anyone contemplating medical school."—Kirkus Reviews
"During her three years as a resident in internal medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, Transue wrote about her patients as a way to guard against burnout and share her experiences with friends and family. This moving collection of her stories conveys vividly, sometimes painfully, the atmosphere of overwork, exhaustion and insecurity in which a resident works: the long shifts and sleepless nights, the moments when she cannot contain her tears, the times when she is haunted by fears that she has made the wrong decision. But she never loses sympathy for her patients—the heart attack victim who regrets not remembering his near-death experience, the old woman who has a pet name for her walker, the psychotic who imagines he is in constant pain and just wants her to hold his hand, even the grumpy man with emphysema who smokes two packs a day and complains about the treatment he has to receive as a result, and the habitual drunks lined up every night on stretchers in a back hallway. It's reassuring to read that a doctor isn't afraid to express compassion for her patients and that she is eager to listen and learn as they talk about their hopes and fears. There are many touching moments here, especially when she's reminded by a patient who is dying that it's important to look out the window and enjoy the view on a sunny day. Her descriptions of medical procedures can be graphic, but she presents an intriguing picture of a side of medicine many people never see."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

"The chemistry that happens between doctors and patients, the natural sympathy that is so strong in some interactions and so elusive in others, I sensed intuitively when I first started clinical work, but began to try to analyze only later. I have come to think that doctors and patients, like lovers or friends, can have a deep instinct to connect with each other in some instances and not in others. You can work around the connection, care for someone without it, learn to modulate it; the bond can appear suddenly after a long time of being absent. but the basic chemistry is real."

Read the full excerpt


  • Emily R. Transue, M.D.

  • Emily R. Transue, M.D. is a native of Toledo, Ohio. She attended Yale University, where she received her B.S. in 1992 with distinction in Biology. As an undergraduate, she co-organized the D.E.M.O.S. program for science teaching in elementary schools, which received several state and national teaching awards and was featured on Good Morning, America. Transue received her M.D. from Dartmouth Medical School in 1996, and was also the 1996 recipient of the Pharmacia and Upjohn Achievement Award for distinction in Internal Medicine. She did her residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, and was then awarded a Chief Residency position, which she completed in July of 2000. Transue now works as a general internist at a multispecialty clinic in downtown Seattle.