Fact: Highly successful doctors do not read very much because they are incredibly busy people. (Actually, HSDs read quite a lot.)

Fact: Highly successful doctors only read for work and do not have time for lighter or frivolous material. (Actually, HSDs often read children’s books.)




Last night, RN’s Book Show recorded another in their series of Reading on Vocation. Last month it was lawyers, which I mulched here. On the show tomorrow doctors get the Ramona Koval treatment, having their thoughts and preferences teased and charmed out of them. The three medics are extreme overachievers: Dr Chris Merry specialises in adult cardiac surgery and general thoracic surgery; Dr Jayashri Kulkarni is a Professor of Psychiatry and leads a large research group (like, 120 people); and Dr Rodney Hicks is an expert in nuclear medicine and director of a molecular imaging unit at a cancer centre.

Clearly they all have raw IQs somewhere over the top of Mt Kosciuszko. Merry, a strapping, handsome young fellow, is the one with the big, boisterous, hand-waving, crowd-pleaser personality – no doubt honed by being a presenter on a community radio show. The glamorous and sparky Kulkarni grew up in India and the high-domed Hicks is keen on historical and classic allusions.

(Proviso: my notes below are a bit impressionistic as I had to jot at speed; these docs gab a whole faster than the lawyers – which probably tells us something about evidentiary caution.)

Ramona’s warm-up question – breakfast: Hicks – “cereal and fruit juice”; Kulkarni – “half a chocolate Easter egg and a Coke Zero”; Merry – “a cafe latte followed by a long mac.”

On his first copy of Gray’s Anatomy: Merry: I prefer the [TV] show to the book because the surgeons are so good looking. My mother had stolen the book from Warrnambool library…

On vocational reading: Hicks: Go to the classics in literature. Go away from textbooks – what you have there is human nature.

On course reading: Kulkarni: They made us do Freud. Jung was unbelievably complicated. Modern psychiatry really doesn’t have much to do with that anymore …

Most useful book: Kulkarni: [Irvin] Yalom’s Love’s Executioner [& other tales of psychotheraphy]


Books he recommends: Merry: Gabriel Weston’s Direct Red: A Surgeon’s View of Her Life-or-Death Profession; (my damned notes look like doctor’s writing – I can’t recover the meaning: “Making the Dust by Dr Kandra”? Nope, can’t track it); and especially Atul Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science.

On Freud: Kulkarni: I’m not Freud-bashing – it’s the method. Put a sock in it, you’re talking too much. The patient would say something, you’d say Ah ha. They would say something else, you’d say Ah ha. They’d say something was making them feel bad. You’d say, so, it was making you feel bad? They’d say it’s upsetting. You’d say, it upsets you? …

On doctor-patient dynamics: Merry: We know that if you have bad relationships the outcome will be poor.

On being: Hicks, quoting Horace: Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own. He who secure within can say, Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

Name check: Hicks: I was reading the dialogues of Plato … (on the human resistance to novelty.)

Books checked: Merry: Dan Brown, science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, Kafka, Margaret Atwood’s Orxy & Crake ... maybe it’s a bit escapist.


Perspective: Hicks: reading Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life, and you think – this is a crap life. It gives you perspective.

Children: Hicks: I read Lord of the Rings four times [once] to each of my children, complete with voices. My kids don’t like the movies – that’s not the right voice, they’d say.

Children: Kulkarni: Harry Potter – the nerdy kid who did good. Maybe that’s my fantasy. I love it and my kids love it.

The Slap: Kulkarni: I hated The Slap. It presented to the whole world Melboourne as a place full of bogans. Merry: Sex-crazed bogans … I loved the book.

Ramona: So you like a happy ending? Kulkarni: I read books again – it lulls me, there are no surprises. I want a happy ending, and some froth, and some predictability.

After work: Hicks: I go to a lot of my patients’ funerals.

(After notes: The event was held at the excellent Wheeler Centre.)

Last word: Merry: Never use the word ‘routine’ in heart surgery – because for the patient it is not routine.