Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric J. Topol, MD, recently spoke with New York Times best-selling author Robin Cook, MD, about his work as a physician and writer. Dr. Cook's 33rd medical thriller, Cell, is out on February 4. The author of Coma, both a best-seller and a movie starring Michael Douglas, discusses his latest work and how he sees the practice of medicine evolving in the future.
Eric J. Topol, MD: Hello. I'm Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape, and I'm really pleased to have as our guest on Medscape One-on-One, Dr. Robin Cook. This is part of our mission to bring some of the most interesting people in the medical world to Medscape, and certainly you qualify for that, Robin. You've published 33 medical thrillers -- wow. But before we get to that, I thought we'd talk a bit about your background. You grew up in Queens?
Robin Cook, MD: Queens, New York.
Dr. Topol: We were both born in the same place. And you later moved to New Jersey?
Dr. Cook: Yes. At around age 8 we moved over to Leonia, New Jersey, just across the George Washington Bridge, but I still consider that to be New York,, even though it's New Jersey.
Dr. Topol: Right. And then you went to Wesleyan for your undergraduate studies, Columbia University for medical school, and to Kennedy School of Government?
Dr. Cook: Kennedy School of Government was after my ophthalmology residency, but I squeezed in some surgical residency as well.
"I Had Been Duped"
Dr. Topol: You really had some interesting training. One of the things that I thought was amazing was that, while you were in medical school, you decided you were going to be an author.
Dr. Cook: Yes, but I decided that I wanted to write a book or that someone needed to write a book, because I hadn't been in medical school that long before realizing that in some sense I had been duped.
Duped, because I had absorbed the media's portrayal of medicine, and in college, for instance, we used to watch Ben Casey on Thursday nights. In one room. All of us. We were all pre-med, and we thought, "Oh, it's really competitive at school to try to get into medical school, but once we're there it's going to be so wonderful." We just concentrated on learning and becoming the best doctors we could.
When we got to medical school, within the first days we were told essentially how competitive it is. The competition is not going to go down; the competition, in fact, is going to ratchet upward, and my sense was that this probably was not the best way to train doctors. I thought, "Someday I'm going to write a book about the way medicine really is, and hopefully it will be even a movie."
Dr. Topol: But did you think it was going to be fiction? A medical thriller? Or did you think it would be nonfiction?
Dr. Cook: No, I just thought people should know that medicine is very different from how it's portrayed on television and in movies and novels. I started to sense that perhaps it might be to people's benefit to learn that it's not quite as rosy as all those shows that I had seen. With Dr. Marcus Welby, everything is fine. You probably remember that he never sent out a bill. He never had to argue with the insurance company to get paid. He never had to deal with Medicaid where you never got paid.
Dr. Topol: But everybody loved him.
Dr. Cook: Everybody loved him and everybody sort of felt, "Oh, gosh, that must be a wonderful life. I want to do that."