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“Words are never, ever, just words.” Joanna Cannon writes this in the context of giving a diagnosis but it could equally apply to her writing. There is no spare word in this book, no word which doesn’t carry the reader forward on their journey as they join her on a retrospective reflection on her life as a medical student and junior doctor.
This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. Dr Cannon lays herself as bare as the cadaver that accompanied her through medical school, exposing her own vulnerability that readers might learn the brutal reality of her chosen profession for someone who is clearly so innately compassionate and empathetic.
As a former nurse, I found this to be quite a painful read at times as it triggered memories of the medical students I encountered who didn’t have the wherewithal to complete their studies because they were too caring of their patients but couldn’t apply that same compassion to themselves – how they would have benefitted from the wise words in this slim volume.
Although it makes for harrowing reading at times, it is ultimately a compulsive and emphatically positive book and should be compulsory reading for every medical and nursing student – or anyone considering those paths. I would also recommend the book to patients (that’s most of us at some time!) as it takes any apparent glamour out of a doctor’s job and replaces it with compassionate reality in a very accessible and humane form.
“I strongly believe in the power of words, to heal and mend,” Cannon writes, and in this book she does exactly that, transferring her skills from the wards to her words.
I love a good memoir. Cannon’s memoir is not just good. It’s astounding. I read it over a couple of hours and would’ve been more than happy if it’d been 100 pages longer.
Cannon describes her experience of deciding to return to study as a mature student, not to do just any degree, but to become a medical doctor. A huge, enduring task which I, personally, wouldn’t ever entertain.
Cannon’s recollection of her studies and years as a junior doctor are as heartbreaking as they are candid. She is honest about her views which have changed over time and the impact doctors have on their patients, medically and physically. Moreover, she is in no way melodramatic or self-interested – she writes how I think her to be – introspective and wise.
This book means a lot at any time, but in a world where the NHS is being degraded and so many people are suffering burnout, it serves as a stark reminder that we must be compassionate – towards others, but also towards ourselves.
Everyone has a book or two which stays with them. This will be one of those books for me; it’s up there with my other favourite medical memoirs (of which I’ve read many!) – I’ve no doubt I’ll be returning to it in the future.
You’ll like this book if you enjoyed:
When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi This is going to Hurt – Adam Kay Being Mortal – Atul Gawande Unnatural Causes – Richard Shepherd War Doctor – David Nott
Reading this as a doctor myself, there were so many points that chimed with my own experiences - and as an older doctor who trained some decades ago, I felt very sad for how poorly the new F1/F2 docs are looked after. This is a book that does more than ‘ring true’; it is is totally engaging and reflects the truths of the current NHS. I laughed ... and cried ... as it made me recall so many similar situations from my own work experiences. I passed it on to my daughter who has just completed her F1/F2 years - she read the book in a day - and laughed ..... and cried just as I did, and just as many others will as well. It’s a ‘must buy’ book!
This is a somewhat vague memoir of Britain's NHS through her studentship and junior doctor roles. Perhaps she should remember that no health service is perfect. To me, this is a prolonged moan about the system in which she works and an equally prolonged monologue of self-adulation and self-pity.
Wonderfully written,only wished It could have been available whilst I was training to be a nurse and midwife....I cannot believe how similar the experiences and emotions.Caring for patients was filled with moments of sadness but also incredibly interesting and worthwhile never boring.However I to endured unnecessary criticism and unkind words from some colleagues. This book should be part of the reading list for all persons training in the medical field.
A difficult read; at times depressing; at times frightening; at times uplifting. A story of a what seemed to be a Square peg in a round hole and then the joy of finding your own round hole. I have experienced some of the scenarios personally and found these insightful. Empathy is the greatest characteristic ; some say it cannot be taught but perhaps experience of this environment does teach this, due to the sheer need for it, together with a need to develop, in tandem, a harder outer shell in order to protect yourself. The book also shows that it is difficult to be empathetic to everyone all of the time; those perceived as uncaring also need empathy. This is life in the raw; for junior doctors, please don’t give up for all our sakes!
Such an incredible book. Beautifully written and one that I read in one sitting. I could not put it down, I had to know what happened. Each anecdote, each story is told with wisdom and insight that shows just how well Dr Cannon must have fitted into psychiatry. I had the pleasure of listening to Joanna speak at the Guildford Book festival when she was promoting The Trouble With Goats and Sheep and I thought then,as I think now, that she herself was just as fascinating a character, as any of her fictional ones. An extraordinary book. Enlightening. Fiercely honest. Touching and moving. A book that everyone should read.
This was such a self centred book; being a doctor is not about finding a cosy niche for yourself - its about doing something useful for others. We are asking a great deal from an imperfect NHS but the profession is able to do an extraordinary amount of good - consider high risk pregnancies, joint replacements, living with previously fatal diseases like childhood leukaemia and diabetes. I really felt that she was not a good choice as a "wild card" selection - hope she is happy listening to stories and feeling hard done by instead of feeling grateful to be allowed to connect with strangers and to do some good - an imperfect system but what is perfect
I am not a monogamous reader. I cheat on my books all the time. It is very rare for me to sit down with one book and pore through it from beginning to end but that is exactly what happened when I picked up Joanna Cannon’s Breaking and Mending.
I spend a lot of time at hospitals due to my Colitis but Joanna Cannon made me feel like I was a junior doctor experiencing the highs and lows of hospital life along with her. I broke down along with the author and I fell for patients and their families. I had a lot of respect for those who work in hospitals before (from porters to surgeons) but after reading this book my levels of respect has grown exponentially.
With the NHS in such a precarious state and with the lifeblood of it being sucked out by money hungry politicians then books like Breaking and Mending, books that offer real life experiences inside the hospital walls are more than entertainment. They are necessary. They are important.
If you buy just one book this year then please make it Breaking and Mending.
Breaking and Mending – A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion and Burnout by Joanna Cannon is available now.
A lovely deeply moving book to read. It restores my faith in people. Brought an extra copy to give to my brother and his wife who are a psychiatrist and a gp. Thought it might resonate with them. Having a diagnosis of schizophrenia myself it was lovely to see a doctor who do clearly loved her job and the people she worked with. Most struck by the description of sitting in the death of someone, resonated so much with my recent experience of my partner's father. Thank you