The House of God: A Review of a Lifetime Must Read
Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 9:21AM
Brian in Books, Interesting Reads

The Review

“Samuel Shem has done what few in American medicine have dared to do—create an unvarnished, unglorified, and amazingly forthright portrait revealing the depth of caring, pain, pathos, and tragedy felt by all who spend their lives treating patients and have dared to stand at the crossroads between science and humanity.” - New York Times.

I’ve been sitting here for over two hours with a blank screen trying to come up with good enough words to inspire you to not only go buy this book but read it. What can I say? You’ll laugh too much, you’ll cry a little; and you’ll be disgusted, aroused, and amazed at times. The House of God is a book written by Samuel Shem who portrays an intern’s first year at one of the best teaching hospitals in the country. Roy G. Basch and his five intern friends go through one of the hardest, most memorable years of their lives. His girlfriend, Berry, and mentor, Fat Man, are there helping him every step of the way. Shem uses his quick wit to reveal the processes of the medical system’s hush, hush secrets: doing everything possible to turf patients to other units, doing nothing for a patient and buffing the chart to save their lives.

Understand People who work in the Medical Profession

Being a pre-med student can be hard on more than one occasion. You spend hours upon hours studying every week, many if not most times going into the wee hours of the night. Hours and hours spent online and off networking, gaining strong, helpful relationships, joining a club and serving on the board, volunteering at hospitals and the many other extra-curriculars you’re involved in, dealing with school politics, friend drama, homework, essays, math problems, memorizing five chapters in a month… And then it hits. A friend, a lover, a family member doesn’t quite understand why you might be silent, angry, or unresponsive at the moment. It drives you nuts that they still are still unable to grasp what you’re going through. Of course, you get the same response you got the last hundred times you’ve said something.

This book has a good chance of being a medium between you and that person who may not realize or understand what you’re going through or what you’re thinking. The feelings that Basch goes through and the situations he is placed in throughout the book are many of the same feelings that I and many other pre-meds I know go through. I’m not implying that pre-med life is as hard as the first year of interning in any regard; the workload, I’m assuming, is much greater. But the social aspects: the way he thinks and feels, the way people respond to it, and the hierarchy politics, it’s all the same. If you’re someone outside the realm of medicine and would like to know how doctors and hospital personnel feel about taking care of patients, this is a great book to read. If you’re someone going into the realm of medicine and would like them to understand, this is a great book for that too. At this point, it’s worth a shot right?


Favorite Line: “Berry is trying to teach me to love as once I did love, before the deadening by the year.”

Second Favorite Line: “That’s what’s so wrong. It isn’t the medical skills you learn, it’s the ability to wake up the next day as if nothing had happened the day before…”

Favorite House Law, X: If you don’t take a temperature, you can’t find a fever.

Favorite Glossary Word, SLURPERS: House Academics, striving to lick their way up to the academic medical cone toward the one position at the top—the chief.


This book is not for the lighthearted or the weak stomach. Some of the material he talks about can be shocking. It’s shocking to think people in the medical system can think this way, it’s not what people want to hear. A good example of this is House Law II: Gomers go to ground and Fat Man’s teachings on how to turf a patient. The resident teaches the interns ways to “accidently” cripple patients so they can be sent to another service. With that said, even if you’re having stomach problems and pass out easily, you still need to read this book. If you can’t handle what’s going on, how are you going to handle medical school and thereafter? Medicine isn’t always about white, majestic unicorns and beautiful rainbows so grab a five gallon bucket, get a good bookmark, and get ready to barf.

The days spent in the life of a health major and health professional can be long, cold, and unrelenting. We have to make decisions quickly and act on them incessantly. We’ve all heard the nonchalant line, “We see people one day, we don’t see them the next.” What we don’t hear is, “I took care of Jane Doe, we treated her cancer for months but she passed away a few days ago. You know, I really got to know her these past couple weeks and now I’m devastated.” It happens again, and again, and again. So, we clamp up, push it to the side, and just worry about it later. We don’t have time for this mushy stuff and we’ve made it this far, right?

Acting as if nothing happened, it works really good. Really good. So good that everyone’s doing it. And then your friend takes a rope to his neck, another friend takes a bullet to his head, someone becomes addicted to narcotics, others quit their lifelong dream, and you find out your dead inside. What did I learn from this book? Why do I like this book? And why do I think you should read it? It teaches you to deal with those damned emotions and feelings that keep getting in the way. If you’re lucky enough you’ll have a very close friend or possibly lover that you can confide in and tell them all the dirty and horrendous secrets you have. For everyone’s sake, I hope we can have someone as insightful and loving enough as Berry to get us through it. This way, we’ll be less likely to kill ourselves, or even worst, someone else.

It was highly recommended by one of my professors and, in reading reviews, it’s highly recommended by many in the medical profession, from interns up to chiefs of medicine. Dissect it, understand it, and eventually live it; if not, you’ll be missing out.

If you’ve read the House of God, tell us what you think; and if you’re going to pick up the book, come back and let us know what you thought.

You can find us on twitter or facebook.

Article originally appeared on Pre-Med Hell (
See website for complete article licensing information.