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The House of God

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  5,918 ratings  ·  544 reviews
Now a classic! The hilariousnovel of the healing arts that reveals everything yourdoctor never wanted you to know. Six eager interns-- they saw themselves as modern saviors-to-be.They came from the top of their medical school classto the bottom of the hospital staff to serve ayear in the time-honored tradition, racing to answerthe flash of on-duty call lights and nubilenur...more
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 15th 1980 by Non Basic Stock Line (first published 1978)
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Julianne
Aug 01, 2008 Julianne rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Julianne by: Joe D.
As I tell people: I liked the morals, not the story.

The message on why "the boys" didn't like the chief, how doing nothing is good medicine, and the difference between gomers and old folks are very pertinent to me and how I practice in healthcare. My favorite Laws include:

3. At a cardiac arrest, the first procedure is to take your own pulse.
4. The patient is the one with the disease
10. If you dont take a temperature you can't find a fever.
13. The delivery of medical care is to do as much nothing...more
Cecelia
I felt I should read this book, described as the "Catch-22 of medicine" before graduating from med school. It was scary how accurate most of it is, right down to the 'Laws' of the House of God quoted throughout. Remember, Age + BUN = Lasix dose. But well written and a good read, although I don't know how funny it will be to those outside the medical profession (probably still so to spouses).
Shelley
Mar 16, 2013 Shelley rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoy orgies in the callroom
I don't usually review books I rate at 3 stars or lower, but this is an exception: I detest this book so much that I feel compelled to write something about it.

Make no mistake: I am a resident physician (and read this book during my internship year), so none of the horrible things that happen in the book faze me. I am also the last person to dislike a book because it is not "feel-good", or because it offers more questions than solutions (those are often the best books). However, I take issue wit...more
Patrick Henderson
Sep 08, 2007 Patrick Henderson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ANYONE going into medicine in any capacity...and anyone attached to said people
Shelves: hilarious
I read this in college, then again my first year of medical school, then again my last year of medical school, then again during my internship, and I'm reading it once more now as a senior resident. Along with the television show Scrubs, it's the most accurate portrayal of American medicine that I'm familiar with. I gave it to my father and he called me saying that he wanted to go medical school. I gave it to my mother and she called me crying, asking if my job really is as bad as Shem makes it...more
Elizabeth  Holter
Disclaimer: I was did my internship and residency at the other hospital, "MBH," in Shem's classic novel about medical training, at the same time that he was busy observing his fellow house officers and higher ups at the House of God. So my take on this book is colored by immersion in the culture he parodies, and by the fact that one of his main characters bears strong resemblance to a medical school classmate who interned in Boston at Shem's hospital.
Fresh out of five years of medical training...more
Natalie
This was my second attempt at reading this book. My first, when I was still a medical student, ended a few chapters in, when I had to stop reading because I found the book far too cynical and depressing. Now, apparently, I'm jaded enough to enjoy it, though I know the reality isn't quite as awful as this book would have you believe.

Plenty of it, of course, hits right on target. The exhaustion of night shifts: that moment when you actually wish somebody would die because it means less work for yo...more
Elizabeth
Oct 24, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone, but esp. med students, people interested in how hospitals work
Spoiler alert (esp. 3rd paragraph) Also, this book has some very *explicit* parts.

This novel follows an intern, Roy G. Basch, for his internship year at a prestigious hospital nicknamed the “House of God.” Roy must deal with sickness of the elderly, the death of the young, the competition of his peers, the lack of an outside life, and the tension with his superiors. Roy discovers providing medical care is nothing like what he was taught in medical school. Each of these stresses makes Roy withdra...more
McGooglykins
When I was a nursing student, I was sitting at the nurses station and writing a rough draft of my patients notes for my supervising RN to read through before I put them in the file. One of the medical interns sat down next to me and asked me if I'd read The House of God. I thought he might have been trying to convince me to join some obscure religion. I hadn't, I warily told him so, and he threw his hands up in the air and said "You have to, you need to read it, it's real life put down on paper,...more
Andy
I've avoided reading this for years. To be fair, I didn't even know about it until half way through med school and then I never had much desire to come home and 'read about the day job'. But, now I'm a GP and have been out of the hospital for approaching 2 years now I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Hmmm. It's about what I was expecting. Almost everyone who has reviewed it on here appears to be a doctor and the number of 'just like real life' comments astound me. I trained in the UK and work in NZ s...more
Emily
I read this during the first weeks of residency and couldn't have picked a better time to do so. What an excellent depiction of all that medical training is but shouldn't be.
Few thoughts:
1) Some of my Family Med colleagues thought House of God was abhorrent. I thought long and hard about this--and even about why it wasn't shocking to me. Here's the rub: it's satire y'all! All I can say is that if the anecdotes make you so uncomfortable, commit yourself to improving health care and medical educa...more
Pragya Maheshwari
Actually, I rate the book at 3.5 stars.
As true as the back cover read, the book is raunchy, troubling, hilarious and another personal addition, it's DEPRESSING.
Plot Outline: The story is narrated by Dr. Roy Basch, a student of BMS, about his life during the year of his internship at the House of God. The central characters are: his constant girlfriend Berry, his co-interns Potts and Chuck, senior the Fat Man, the hospital hierarchy including Jo, Fish and Leggo, the nursing staff at the hospital...more
Rosemary
Over the years, I've been told many times by many different people that I should read The House of God. These recommendations usually come with some variation on an explanation that the book is a thought provoking insight into the delivery of healthcare and/or medical education. I envisioned delving into an Atul Gawande-esque, cerebral discussion of the virtues and limitations of modern medicine. Instead, I found myself stifling gut wrenching laughter as I - initially - enjoyed this "fictionaliz...more
Ryan Monaghan
I think that if medical internship literature was an actual genre, this book would be its Lord of the Rings, its Dracula.

Without giving anything away, this book details - excruciatingly - the trials and growth of a fresh doctor in his first year of residency, deemed internship.

It is black humor at its finest, I think; a cynical reflection of a doctor who has come to hate the futility he feels in the profession, not to mention the stresses. The only break in sex with just about everything that...more
Liz
This was a cult book in its time in the 1970’s amongst medical health professionals and in many ways it would have been brutally shocking. The truth about how patients and medical staff were treated, the sexualised nature and expectations of nurses, the dehumanising of new medical residents, the dark twisted black humour people used as a coping technique. It is all there and at the time there would have been no other book like it. Talking amongst my hospital colleagues all of the doctors from wh...more
Havva
Borrowed this book from the library. I'm thinking of buying my own copy. I would carry it around with me all the time and hand it to everyone who asks why I'm not studying to be a "real" doctor.

The sad thing is that this dehumanization (of self as well as others) does happen to far too many people, and not just in the medical profession. And most don't have the luck to have it pointed out to them forcibly enough not just that it's happening, but that it's a bad thing.


When people are forced into...more
Courtney
So this was recommended to me by a Physician I worked for. It amazes me that 5 years in an Emergency Department and I can see some of these patients as well as the residents clear as day. It's not for everyone and if you are not in medicine in some shape or form, you probably wont get it, but if you are, then remember, its suppose to be funny and it is.
Dan
Sep 29, 2013 Dan rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: members of the healthcare profession only, and only after they have clinical experience
I seem to take the same issue with this book as a lot of the other low-reviewers.

This is a novel of its time, describing its world far too satirically to be reflected in modern medical education.

In general, the novel has a callousness and cynicism to it that I have not seen over the course of my medical career. I cannot recommend this book to anyone who has yet to experience clinical medicine. There are a lot of in-jokes that you won't get unless you've been working in a hospital setting for a f...more
Ian
Mar 20, 2008 Ian rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
Wildly Overrated Cesspool of a Book

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, but I have many friends who are, and I've heard all about their internships and residencies. None of them purposely killed patients, cheated on husbands/wives/girlfriends/boyfriends, or did the other disgusting things that the author would like us to believe are commonplace.

It's frankly hard to find anything positive about this book. The writing is adolescent and poor, filled with bathroom humor and gratuitous sex. Virtually every...more
Mark
I enjoyed this peak behind the curtain of the life of a medical doctor intern. It is at once hilarious and completely disturbing. The characters explode many myths about who doctors are and what goes on in a hospital, though in doing so I found even greater empathy and respect for them as human beings. The writing is generally quite good. Certain passages are particularly elegant and poignant, while a few veer unnecessarily into unreadable stream of consciousness. The book includes a strong crit...more
Hetal
This book paints such an caustic view of life as an intern, it's almost addictive. Like an episode of Jerry Springer, you sit, entranced by the character's downward spiral, unable to stop him, but knowing full well he is headed for a hard landing.

The character starts off a somewhat wide-eyed and innocent intern on his first day, a bit sarcastic, but otherwise a good person with a great girlfriend and normal and rational thoughts. As the book goes on, Shem paints such a detailed and realistic pic...more
Anne
Absolutely Delightful. I am reading this book, again, just for the sheer joy of laughing out loud. I always have a tenant who is a Dr. living in residence.....this book is written under the pen name of Sam Shen, who is actually a pen name for for Steve Bergman, a Rhodes Scholar and also on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. We have always had a Dr. living in residence at one of our houses. Each one told us that this book is designated reading for every candidate prior to medical school. The...more
Edison
I read this book years ago in med school. It's a great read, though I have to say the author's idea of medical residency being one sexual exploit after another was a bit fanciful. Still, a fun read, especially for those in the know.
Laura
Samuel Shem's fictional account of the life of a hospital intern is reminiscent of Scott Turow's One L, Joseph Heller's Catch 22, and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. His humor has a bit too much edge to it to be really funny - I found myself worrying that I might end up in that hospital, even as I laughed at "the Fat Man's" rules and the descriptions of both the patient care rituals and the sex lives of the doctors. Shem is inclined to wax philosophical on too many occasions, moving...more
Mel
I read this book on the recommendation of the woman who is my ideal of an ER nurse and who I strive to emulate.


I read it when I had absolutely zero intention of ever crossing into the medical side of hospitals from my cushy business office position.

But, I think that the wit and wisdom of the fat man may be responsible for my eventual discovery that being an ER nurse was what I never knew I was always meant to be.

I always remember to keep my patients in the ortho positions, with the siderails up,...more
Lorelei
Feb 09, 2013 Lorelei rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lorelei by: Havva
Shelves: nonfiction
Oh my goodness, this was so good, and so painful! Funny and endearing enough to make up for all the horrible, and there is a lot of horrible. This is very true to modern medicine as I have experienced it. People constantly tell me that 'it's different now.' Sadly, not enough has changed, and what has changed hasn't changed enough. Regardless this is an incredible and a marvelous read. It breaks up well enough for reading on the bus, although at over 400 pages it is a little long for that. I woul...more
Cathryn Conroy
You may think this is a religious book--but it's not! Far from it. Written in 1978, but taking place in 1973-74, this is a satirical look at the first year of a medical residency at what is likely Beth-Israel Hospital in Boston. The main character is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. The book, which has been a cult hit among med students for years, tells of the slow and steady decline mentally, emotionally and physically of the interns. For the mother of an intern, it is a horror story. But...more
Marc
A brilliant, funny, explicitly erotic, brilliant and caring story about real life in medical residency training, written in 1978 by a survivor. A story of dissociation and regression in the face of an inhuman system, but it shows ways out. Got me to thinking about how detached or caring I am in my own life. A gem, which my doc friends tell me is both realistic about residency training, and still valid several decades after it was published. The author, whose non-pen name is Stephen Bergan, later...more
Kmwann
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Simon Strauss
Having graduated in 1972 and then did my "internship" at a large provincial hospital I wish that I had read this book years ago. It seems remarkable that my Australian experience so closely resembled what this book laid bare. The overwhelming fatigue of working 72 hours straight on an admitting weekend, followed by a standard 5 day 12 hour per day week with a 1 in 3 on call nights roster took a toll on many of us. It got so bad that we went on strike and forced the admin to give us a week off du...more
Emily
Finished FINALLY. God this was a slog. It's really a 2.5 at best. I don't really understand why this book is always trotted out as being an important commentary on medical training when it's really about end of life care...? I don't know. Just glad I'm done and can finally read anything else. The book ITSELF is a gomer.
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Pen name of Stephen Joseph Bergman.
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“Life's like a penis; When it's soft you can't beat it; When it's hard you get screwed. - The Fat Man, Medical Resident in The House of God” 10 likes
“The patient is the one with the disease” 9 likes
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