By Ekta R. Garg
September 30, 2020
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: Sept. 15, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
An intern learns the hard way about the realities of practicing medicine in the first year of her residency. When she and another resident find themselves in a moral dilemma, they face the toughest choices of their career. Author and physician Madi Sinha relies on her personal experience in medicine to give readers a novel that is factual but also fizzles out toward the end in her debut The White Coat Diaries.
Intern Norah Kapadia has landed the residency of her dreams at Philadelphia General Hospital. Everyone knows the reputation of PGH in turning out stellar doctors, but now that her intern year has actually started Norah figures out how those doctors got there: by enduring grueling hours and harsh treatment by older residents and faculty. At least she has the other interns. The five of them commiserate over doing the “scut” work—the menial tasks meant for the lowest on the totem pole—and trying to remember what day it is after their long shifts.
Even though her first day nearly ends in someone dying, chief resident Ethan Cantor swoops in and saves the day. He also captivates Norah’s attention, when she has enough of it to spare after doing all of the work an intern is expected to do. As time goes on, Ethan reciprocates Norah’s interest. It’s one of the few saving graces of what’s turning out to be the most challenging experience of her life, both physically and mentally.
Despite the fact that her late father was a renowned physician himself, Norah doesn’t have the wholehearted approval of her family in wanting to follow in his footsteps. Her hypochondriac, shopaholic mother can’t seem to stop buying useless items to satisfy her need for emotional connectivity, and her brother expects her to take time off—in her intern year!—and manage the few actual health issues their mother has.
Norah does her best, but the pressures of work are starting to mount. When she finds herself in a morally questionable situation at work, she goes with her gut in the hopes of making an impression. Some applaud her, some question her, but only Norah understands what she sacrifices to make her own mark on the medical profession.
Author Madi Sinha speaks with boldness and confidence on the experience of the intern year for students entering residency. With her own background as a physician, Sinha has no problem pivoting on the spur of the moment from a serious moment to a lighthearted one and back to a situation where someone might die. The quick changes show what medicine looks like on a daily basis, and the hospital setting is clearly where Sinha feels most comfortable with her characters.
The plot, however, remains problematic at best. Norah resents her family’s strong pull on her and succumbs to her brother’s pressure for a short time. Then that part of the story fades away. When Norah finds herself on the cusp of a major personal development in romance, she explains it with the same intensity as she discusses her patients. Yet that thread, too, remains loose in the wind. A friendship integral to her life unravels, which might make readers question its strength in the first place, and a temporary job comes and goes in the blink of an eye without any serious impression on Norah.
The biggest issue in the book comes in the questionable moral choice Norah makes. Readers will feel some tension building, and when the climax comes to the fore it’s easy to make assumptions on what will happen next. Instead of wading into the deep end with the characters, however, Sinha bypasses the situation altogether, giving Norah an easy out. The result will leave readers questioning her choices for the betterment of the profession she wanted so much, even as they might feel somewhat relieved that she recused herself from doing further harm.
The novel ultimately feels like one where opportunities were missed, both on the cultural front as well as in regards to Norah’s ability to make a significant difference for more than just a handful of people. Readers who enjoy authentic workplace dramas might want to check this out. Otherwise, I recommend they Borrow The White Coat Diaries.