Is Dr. Jim Bailey in any way Dr. Don Newman? Bailey, professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says in two respects definitely not. Newman, resident physician and protagonist in Bailey's novel, The End of Healing, is, for one thing, "much better-looking," according to Bailey. And another thing: Newman once played football.
But Bailey's being asked the question a lot: Just how autobiographical is The End of Healing? It's an obvious question to ask, whether the author's here in Memphis or on the road, including recent signings in Annapolis, Birmingham, and Knoxville.
Bailey says he's been thrilled by reader response to the novel, but he's been a little surprised to hear the book compared to works by Dan Brown and John Grisham — and yes, there's a little of each author in the novel's conspiratorial subplots. More striking, Bailey's heard The End of Healing compared to Ayn Rand — and yes, there are lengthy philosophical discussions in these pages too.
Those discussions are headed by Dr. Gil Sampson as he leads his three seminar participants in a course that questions how health care in America does and does not work. Bruce Markhum is a star surgeon in the making but with his eye on the financial bottom line. Frances Hunt is a talented nurse practitioner who isn't quite sure where to put her trust in today's health-care system. And Don Newman is having a crisis of conscience, both professionally and personally.
"My goal was to write a story that exposed some of the dark underside of modern health care, which is not always working for the patient's benefit," Bailey says, and continues:
"I also wanted to write in a way that was accessible to everyone, to tell an engaging story, but also a story that sees through all the rhetoric to see both sides: health-care workers and patients. It's the story of every young, idealistic healer who, faced with the hard realities, finds it difficult to be true to the oath he or she has taken."
Thus, Newman's crisis of conscience, which Bailey says he's seen time and again in his work with medical students and resident physicians at UT. Bailey calls it a process of disillusionment that comes after witnessing a system that sometimes separates health-care workers from the very people they were trained to serve: the sick. But Bailey is not without hope:
"There is hope at the end of The End of Healing, just as I see hope in the idealistic young healers I teach. I also see it in the innovative, caring people inside the insurance and pharmaceutical industries who want to put patients first. Yes, my book is hard on every component of the health-care industry, but there are people in that industry who do want to be part of the solution."
Part of the solution lies in the classroom, and it's been heartening for Bailey to see his novel already used in the sociology-of-medicine coursework at Ole Miss and Rhodes College. The dean of the school of public health at the University of Alabama-Birmingham has even called The End of Healing one of the best summaries of health-care policy he's found.
As with reader response, such positive support from colleagues has thrilled Bailey too. What doesn't please him in today's headlines is the faulty perspective granted to Ebola by the media. Compare that plague (and Bailey certainly doesn't deny the gravity of it) to a plague that is already widespread in America and the source of so much suffering. It's what the wise Dr. Sampson at the end of The End of Healing calls "the plague of plenty," which helps to account for this country's high incidence of obesity, which in turn too often leads to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Should the focus be on a medicine to end the plague of plenty? As with Ebola, Bailey believes a cure won't come until we also eliminate the social conditions, environmental factors, and human behaviors that allow for it in the first place, and addressing the national emergency on all fronts should be one, to quote a phrase, end of healing.