Dr Neela Janakiramanan’s debut novel shares the unseen toll of medical careers

As a reconstructive plastic surgeon, Dr. Neela Janakiramanan knows the unique personal consequences that a career in medicine can bring, especially as a young woman. And that’s why, in her debut novel The Registrar released today, she’s able to paint an honest and evocative portrait of hospital life so skillfully with powerful words.

The book tells the harrowing story of a surgeon in the making, trying to survive a medical system at its breaking point. Unlike the abundance of medical shows we see on TV that glorify the profession, Dr. Janakiramanan offers insight into the culture of overwork, bullying and misogyny found in hospitals. It’s an emotional tale of personal experience woven into gripping fiction.

A regular Women’s program contributor, Janakiramanan generously co-hosted the latest episode of the Women’s Program podcast last week. During the conversation, she talked about the inspiration for her new novel and the changes that need to happen in medicine to level the playing field for women. And, as she says, part of that happens when women’s stories are also shared and listened to.

“It particularly bothered me that, for what little there is in writing, it’s all from a male point of view. There’s no one really telling women’s stories,” he explains. just her.

Much of the medical staff is made up of women, but they don’t always receive the same level of attention or respect as men. Janakiramanan says the care economy – feminised parts of the workforce such as elderly care and general medicine – have often been overlooked, while professions such as intensive care doctors – which have tend to be made up of older white men – are rewarded with more social prestige.

“It’s easy to overlook the broad base that actually holds most [the medical system] go,” she said.

Janakiramanan’s willingness to share the stories of women in medicine stemmed in part from personal grief.

When she was a first-year surgeon, she discovered during a casual conversation that a colleague and friend of hers had committed suicide six months after working together.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about the time we spent together,” she says.

“I went through these phases of analysis and guilt of wondering if I could have done something different. The thing was, [she] was not the first person I knew who had died in the course of their work – some by suicide, others by health issues exacerbated by the nature of the work they were doing. It was a moment when I realized the cost we all pay to get to the finish point which is the end of the workout. There are a lot of stories and that made it a very easy book to write in some cases.

Even though the book’s narrative follows its main character through her training in surgery – the specialty Janakiramanan is most familiar with – she says that many of the issues plaguing young doctors in a healthcare setting are actually quite universal and that they must be told.

Not only does Janakiramanan use her creative writing to give voice to the shared experiences of healthcare professionals, but she also finds creativity helps her treat patients better.

“Medicine is fundamentally creative,” she says. “We treat medicine as a science – and there are scientific aspects – but it’s an art. It’s about people. It’s a communication issue. It’s a matter of connection. It’s about understanding individuals as a whole person, because if you don’t, the care you give won’t be very good.

While some might not immediately associate the professions of medicine and creative writing as similar, Dr. Janakiramanan finds that there is actually a lot of overlap between the two businesses.

“Sometimes creative solutions are needed,” she says. “I think that’s why there are so many doctors who are also writers. There is a synergy. »

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Irene B. Bowles