Romance on the wards

The DO Book Club, Dec. 2022: ‘On Rotation’ and ‘The White Coat Diaries’

In these books, we learn about the pressures some minority women face as they navigate their professional and personal lives.


As the holiday gift-giving season rolls around, what better way to brighten the day of the readers in your life with a jaunty, contemporary medical romance novel. Two new additions to this genre—”On Rotation” by Shirlene Obuobi, MD, and “The White Coat Diaries” by Madi Sinha, MD—highlight the struggles of young women in medicine who are from two different ethnic groups. Both books were written by physicians.

On Rotation’

“On Rotation’s” protagonist is Ghanaian-American Angela Appiah, who is trying to navigate the third year of medical school, maintain friendships, find love and, most critically, live up to the impossibly high expectations of her immigrant parents. They want her to become a physician, work on her clinical research, obtain a competitive residency program and find a successful husband. They even have an ordered list of their preferred ethnic and racial backgrounds of her future partner.

Of course, life for Angela doesn’t exactly go to plan. Her boyfriend dumps her, she barely passes her Step 1 exam and her roommate moves out. She feels she has to block calls and texts from her well-meaning but intrusive parents. Then, on cue, a handsome young man enters her life and causes her to question all the things she thought she could control.

The author, Dr. Obuobi, who is currently a cardiology fellow in Chicago, takes the readers along on Angela’s arduous journey through love and academics. We learn of her parents’ immigration story and the Ghanian cultural rituals surrounding young couples getting engaged.

She weaves in a realistic look at the life of a medical student trying to maintain her grades, start a research project and maintain her ties to group of close friends she calls her “sanity circle.” By describing Angela’s clinical research project, Dr. Obuobi addresses the racial inequities of health care access and the social determinants of health and disease. We even get to explore the destructive course of substance abuse disorder and end-of-life care.

Of course, before protagonist Angela can love someone else, she has a lot of work to do on loving herself and realizing her own worthiness. She is a likeable character trying to grow up and to weather the professional and social bumps that arise in her path.

Physician readers will identify with many of her struggles and find her story engaging and instructive. Angela observes after her best friend and roommate walks out on her, “Medical school kind of feels like it takes everything from me at this point.” (pp. 175)

Dr. Obuobi doesn’t sugarcoat reality as Angela comes to some painful conclusions. In the book, Angela says, “All this time, I’d assumed that being a doctor meant performing miracles. Fixing bodies. Saving lives. I had hardly considered the flip side of that coin: that it also meant looking a patient’s family in the eye and telling them to say their last goodbyes. That it meant staring down the permanence of death over and over again, until it stopped feeling like something to be prevented at all costs and instead became something to be occasionally embraced.” (pp. 320)

This coming-of-age story travels through Angela’s budding romance and parallel self-discovery. No spoilers here, but readers will enjoy watching Angela figure it out. She rejects her history of perfectionism and self-criticism to discover, “This was what love was supposed to feel like: uplifting, encouraging, and renewing.” (pp. 285) The tale ends with the story of Match Day and Angela’s discovery of where she will train.

The White Coat Diaries

“The White Coat Diaries” tells the story of Dr. Norah Kapadia, who enters her internship year with all the expectations of her Gujarati Indian family weighing on her shoulders. The story begins with the befuddled heroine sequestered in an emergency department storeroom, after an inadvertent needle stick injury.

We go through all the intern feels on Norah’s first day: disgruntled patients, sleep deprivation and her first overly aggressive decision in patient care. Like all physicians who read this book, readers recognize the trepidation and self-doubt faced by Norah and her peers.

In addition to the pressures of becoming an intern, Norah must live up to tremendous expectations from her family, as her deceased father was a very famous physician, and her mother is very traditional and needy.

In much the same way as Angela’s mother is in “On Rotation,” Norah’s mother is obsessed with her unmarried status and how it affects the way her Gujarati Indian peers look at them both as failures. The author, Dr. Sinha, who is a family medicine physician in New Jersey, surely drew on her life experiences to write a real page-turner with comedy, tragedy, medical mistakes, illicit romance and a bit of intrigue.

We accompany Norah on her great odyssey of growth and self-discovery. Unfortunately, the book shows what happens when naive, idealistic young trainees get immersed in reality, and it is harsh indeed. There are abusive attending physicians, consultants who won’t accept admissions, brusque nurses and a substance-abusing intern. The novel is a sad commentary on the American health care training system that turns young, idealistic people into professionals who lack empathy.

In Norah’s final reckoning with her actions, she has a moment of clarity. She says, “I don’t care if this is how it’s always been done. We can’t be expected to take care of humans by being less human. They tell us it’s weakness if we can’t handle it, but that’s a lie.” (pp. 344)

If one wants to understand the emotions and struggles of people during their years of training in medicine, this book can help. In some ways, it comes closer to conveying the actual experiences of interns than some of the classic medical memoirs.

Well-written and ambitious books

In both “On Rotation” and “The White Coat Diaries,” we learn about the pressures some ethnic minority women face as they navigate both their professional and personal lives. Readers discover the conflicts and pressures placed on young women by their very traditional families. The interactions with family provide some comic relief and an important emotional anchor for both the protagonists.

Both novels are well-written and keep the reader engaged with a diverse cast of supporting characters. I applaud both ladies for taking on these ambitious projects. I am looking forward to seeing what these two young physician authors will write in the future.

January’s books

For January, Daniel J. Waters, DO, MA, will review “When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error” by Danielle Ofri, MD, “Floating Feathers” by Ross I.S. Zbar, MD, and “When Spirit Touches Matter” by Mel Friedman, DO. We encourage all who are interested to read along (this book club can be followed at any pace)! If you are unable to get out to a local library or bookstore, we recommend checking out eBook options.

If you read “On Rotation,” “The White Coat Diaries” or any previous Book Club selection and want to share your reflections, please leave a comment below or email

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

The DO Book Club, Nov. 2022: What Doctors Feel, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, A Christmas Carol

The DO Book Club, Oct. 2022: The Doctors Blackwell

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy