Editorial Review: Playing God: The Evolution of a Modern Surgeon by Anthony Youn
Medical dramas have become a staple of American television, with viewers enthralled by the fast-paced world of medicine. Now, award-winning author Anthony Youn presents that same kind of captivating drama in Playing God, an intriguing, inspiring, and hilarious memoir. The author recounts his long and arduous journey of becoming a successful plastic surgeon, with all of its many ups and downs.
The memoir starts with Youn’s first day of a five-year residency. His excitement was equalled only by his trepidation about putting his medical school knowledge into practice. But his confidence grew throughout his residency, the first three years doing general surgery and the final two dedicated to plastic surgery. During this time, Youn says he worked “in the realm of the hopeful and the hopeless, the sad, the surreal, and even the delusional,” and he shares plenty of vivid examples from all these categories. After residency, Youn tells of completing a fellowship in Beverly Hills, working under an extremely talented surgeon but in an environment that he realized wasn’t right for him. Ultimately, he decided “to leave and head back to Michigan with no money, no patients, knee-buckling debt, hanging on to [his] dream of starting [his] own plastic surgery practice.” The roller-coaster ride of drama and emotions certainly didn’t end there as Youn tells of his desperate search for clients, one mentally unstable patient that nearly destroyed his confidence and career, and life-changing experiences that reminded him why he became a doctor.
Youn’s animated, present-tense narrative makes you feel like you’re right there with him—both physically and emotionally—in every scene he recounts. His authenticity, and especially his willingness to make fun at himself, makes him quite an endearing narrator. Every individual in his story is truly a character, and his creative descriptions of people, places, and events make for hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments all throughout the book. But the emotional pendulum also swings the other way, with several profound moments that are heartbreaking, shocking, and sometimes even angering, while others are deeply satisfying and full of hope and goodness.
It goes without saying that this book would be a tremendous resource for those considering becoming a doctor or are on their way to becoming one. But this memoir goes so much deeper than that, providing all readers with a unique and often eye-opening perspective of what doctors face in their education and careers. There’s the crippling medical school debt (and the innovative ways to deal with it), the ever-present fear of getting sued, and encounters with arrogant doctors “who think they’re God—lording over their patients, nurses, staff, even hospital administrators.” But there’s also the aspect of having a deeply positive impact on others, which makes all the exhaustion and emotional weight worth it. Also, Youn doesn’t limit his story to just within hospital walls. He lets his personality shine through with personal details about his life, like his amusing obsession with eBay, his adventures playing in a Jimmy Buffet cover band, and one time when he and his wife accidentally chose a nudist resort in Jamaica to vacation at. All of these things add humor to the book while serving as a reminder that doctors are people too.
In short, Playing God is fast-paced, emotional, and as entertaining as it is informative—just what the doctor ordered!