The Human Kind: A Doctor’s Stories From the Heart of Medicine

William Ventres, MD, MA

Fam Med. 2020;52(4):302-302.

DOI: 10.22454/FamMed.2020.798476

Return to Issue

Book Title: The Human Kind: A Doctor’s Stories From the Heart of Medicine

Book Author: Peter Dorward

Publication Information: London: Green Tree, 2018, 343 pp., $28

When I think about medicine, I think about people. Their voices, the words they used, their bodies and their facts, their relationships, the way they made me feel—when I think or talk about medicine, these flicker through my memory.

These words from the introduction to Peter Dorward’s fine book, The Human Kind: A Doctor’s Stories From the Heart of Medicine, are full of insight. Not only are they an honest look ahead to the chapters that follow, they are a wonderful summary of our work as family physicians. The introduction is at least an account of the work that defines our best professional aspirations: to be competent, caring, and cognizant that our patients are real people.

The real people of Dr Dorward’s practice—he is a general practitioner in Edinburgh, Scotland—are full of hopes and joys, fears and desires, strengths and failings, and all the rest that goes into being human. They are a complex mixture of physical, emotional, social, relational, and spiritual elements. They struggle with the same issues that others around the world struggle with, including adverse social determinants of health, mental illness, addiction, and resignation in the face of disease and disability: the bad stuff of life that all attentive family physicians deal with almost daily.

Dorward tells their stories, weaving his own curious and insightful perspectives into them. In doing so, he successfully illuminates the deep meaning that comes from being a family doctor in relationship with his or her patients. He examines the satisfaction that accompanies clinical successes, the sadness that emerges from painful errors, and the confusion that so often complements patient presentations full of medically unexplained symptoms. At the same time Dorward unveils the challenges of dealing with suffering, he also unlocks the secret of his labors: solidarity with the human condition.

The facts of a case: the numbers, the signs, the science, the rarity, the amazing, miraculous cures, the smart diagnoses and the cleverness of the person that spotted them—these things are of great but passing interest. But what changes us—or me, at any rate—are the people attached to those facts. Those whom we accompany, walk with for a while through a part of their lives, sometimes even to the very edges of their lives. Those people whom we influence, and most influence us.

Being there, recognizing patients as individuals, learning from them, and growing in their presence; finding ourselves in the therapeutic bonds we share with patients; knowing ourselves as family physicians: these are the messages Peter Dorward invites us to discover, should we be open to such exploration, whether by reflecting on the course of our day-to-day routines or by reading his book.

Truly, The Human Kind touched me in a way that John Berger’s 1967 classic, A Fortunate Man, did when I first read it in the midst of my residency training.1 Neither are easy reads, reflecting the fact that family physicians spend much time and concerted effort attending to patients who despair in the face of sickness. Both, however, are powerful testaments to the value of the work we do in family medicine.

To fix a person who is sick, the facts of their damaged body, the nature and origin of the harm, and the skill to fix it must be clear in front of us. But unless we know the purpose of that—what it means to itself, how it functions in the world, what about it matters to its owner, or whether it matters at all—there still won’t be any hope for remedy for the person, however we try.

I doubt Peter Dorward would have it any other way. I, for one, would not. I hope other family medicine educators and clinicians will feel the same. I urge them to read The Human Kind and, in doing so, discover the secrets of their own labors in service to others.


1. Berger J, Mohr J. A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor. New York: Vintage Books; 1997.

Lead Author

William Ventres, MD, MA

Affiliations: Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR

Fetching other articles...

Loading the comment form...

Submitting your comment...

There are no comments for this article.

Downloads & Info


Related Content


Searching for articles...