Author Louise Aronson to speak at the Health Science Center

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 12, 2013) — Physician-author Louise Aronson, whose book “A History of the Present Illness” interweaves 16 stories of struggle and perseverance that together paint a deeply humane portrait of the lives of doctors and patients, will speak Thursday at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

She will speak at 5:30 p.m. in the Holly Auditorium, located at 7703 Floyd Curl Drive in San Antonio. The event is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will follow the author’s presentation.

Her visit culminates the 2013 One Community/One Book project, a partnership between the Health Science Center Libraries and the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics. The project is made possible by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“The author shows us that doctors are fully human, flawed, but deeply motivated in their desire to provide care with a capital ‘C.’ Through her eyes, we examine the conflicts and consider the motives, as well as the flaws, for an enlightening account of what it means to be a doctor or patient,” said Ruth Berggren, M.D., director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics. “The book gives us insight into how to approach our profession, and maybe even how to survive its demands.”

Dr. Aronson attended Harvard Medical School and holds a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is an associate professor of geriatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, where she directs the Northern California Geriatrics Education Center and the medical humanities program. Her clinical practice is through the Housecalls Program, providing care to homebound elders in underserved San Francisco neighborhoods.

Her book draws its name from a particular part of a medical history. Following the chief complaint, the “history of the present illness” gives a detailed account of a patient’s condition and reasons for seeking care.

“We always say in fiction that you get to the universal through the particular,” said Dr. Aronson in a video interview from her publisher, Bloomsbury USA.

“A History of the Present Illness” is a work of fiction based on Dr. Aronson’s own experiences as a physician. But it tells stories so honest that they blur the boundaries of fiction and real life.

One follows a successful physician faced with twin tragedies involving her aging father and troubled teenage daughter. Another describes an elderly immigrant from China, devoted to his demented wife and yet sacrificing her best interests to their son’s authority. A third tells the story of a psychiatrist who advocates for the underserved, despite her own questionable mental health.

“Good stories like these create safe spaces where life’s experiences can be explored,” said Susan Hunnicutt, special projects librarian at the Health Science Center’s Briscoe Library. “The experience of being a doctor or patient is similar in that both roles can make someone feel powerful or vulnerable and exposed. Reading this book as a community helps us reflect on the complexity of being a health professional or seeing one and reminds us of the humanity inherent in both roles.”

This is the Health Science Center’s sixth One Community/One Book selection. Previous choices include: “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World” (2008); “Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” (2009); “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (2010); “Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child” (2012); and “Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World” (spring 2013).


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