I began my official work with patients this week, so it’s time to introduce the newest character in the PA education saga – my preceptor, The Thin Man.

Who is the Thin Man?

He is a family practice physician with personality!  I think of him like an oversized hummingbird – zipping around the clinic, holding it and his patients together with measured bursts of energy.  He works hard and is well-regarded.  When the situation calls for good listening skills, a gentle touch, or the delivery of bad news, the Thin Man turns down the throttle and delivers.  And when it’s time, he’s off to the next patient, crisis, or pile of dictation.  He’ll be the first to tell you that he isn’t perfect, and that’s just one more thing I like about him: his ego doesn’t suck all the air out of the room.  His interest in the medicine is contagious, and talking about it with him is like fertilizer for my brain.  Better still, he seems to believe in me (at times more than I do), and that’s priceless.

Why do you call him the Thin Man?

Samuel Shem's "The House of God"

It's been reprinted many many times.

Because he’s thin, of course, but there’s more.  The Thin Man moniker is a reference to a book that most medical students read (for fun).  If you are interested in medicine at all, The House of God, (1978) by Samuel Shem, is a must-read.  Shem is the pen name of Stephen Bergman, MD, a Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School graduate*.  The House of God is a hilarious satire about the hard life of medical interns in a hospital called The House of God.  In the story, the new doctor, Roy Basch, comes to terms with the stresses of medicine that he didn’t learn about in school.  His friend and guide through the endless hours of charting, death, snarky patients, hospital turf battles, and overwork, is his supervisor, a senior resident whom he calls The Fat Man.  The Fat Man gets Roy through his internship by teaching him 13 very unconventional laws, such as:

“THERE IS NO BODY CAVITY THAT CANNOT BE REACHED WITH A #14G NEEDLE AND A GOOD STRONG ARM.”

And

“SHOW ME A BMS (a student at the Best Medical School) WHO ONLY TRIPLES MY WORK AND I WILL KISS HIS FEET.”

The Thin Man and the Fat Man are quite different personally, but that’s not the point.  Learning the realities of the medical profession requires an experienced mentor.  And now you’ve met mine.

*To hear Stephen Bergman’s 2009 Harvard Medical School keynote address, click here. It’s enlightening, and funny. He offers some great advice on how to remain human in a profession that often teaches us to leave our humanity at the door.