While there is much conversation about work/life balance and burn out, few books express it as comprehensively as Yumiko Kadota’s memoir Emotional Female (Penguin Random House 2021).
In clear-eyed, self-critical, analytical, vulnerable and emotionally compelling prose, Kadota describes her training as an intern, registrar and resident on her path to becoming a plastics surgery consultant, interspersed with chapters about her home life centred around her Japanese culture, the high expectations of those around her (and herself) and the challenging situations she faced in relation to gender bias, racism, workaholic expectations, the demands from an overworked and understaffed public hospital system and – in the end – what made her walk away, for the good of her own mental health.
I have to admit I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while now but feared it might be dense with medical jargon or even a ‘poor me’ kind of memoir. I apologise to the author for leaving it so long to pick up this very important book. Maybe it’s because one of my own children is now considering medicine that meant this was the right time for me to read this book. It certainly struck a chord. It’s written extremely well and readers will be forgiven for assuming this is not Kadota’s first book. The personal stories are not sentimental but engaging and relatable. The professional aspects are not obtuse but very easy to read, comprehensible, interesting and sometimes shocking. I learnt a lot about the medical system and what it expects of our brightest and best young medical students. I was dismayed to discover the actual figures and also the personal anecdotes about long working hours and inadequate supervision. I was buoyed by the relentless spirit of hope and optimism still reigning in students who wish to become medical specialists and excited by the prospect of just how many young people still enter the medical and allied health professions because they truly want to make a difference.
Kadota pulls no punches and I’m sure this book has touched a few nerves in the medical community. But hers is a voice that should be amplified, not silenced. I highly recommend this book to any young person considering medicine as a career, whatever their gender. I also recommend this to experienced surgeons and consultants who might want to reappraise the way they treat their juniors. And for anyone who is interested in gender relations and inequity, Emotional Female poses many questions, provides some answers, but more importantly opens up a vital discussion about what society expects, especially from females. As Kadota herself says: she is reclaiming ownership of the word ‘emotional’, because in the end, isn’t that what we really want from our medical professionals, that they are caring and emotional towards their patients?