Kurland, Geoffrey 1947-

views updated

KURLAND, Geoffrey 1947-

PERSONAL: Born 1947. Education: Amherst College, B.A. (biology; cum laude), 1967; Stanford University School of Medicine, M.D., 1973.

ADDRESSES: Office—Division of Pediatric Pulmonology, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 3705 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Children's Hospital at Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA, fellow, 1976-81; University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, assistant professor and director of pediatric pulmonology, 1981-88; University of Pittsburgh, professor of pediatrics, 1988—, director of pediatric flexible bronchoscopy service, 1990—, of pediatric pulmonary transplant program, 1992—, and of pediatric pulmonology fellowship, 1992—.

MEMBER: International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Thoracic Society, American Lung Association (member, board of directors, 1983-88), Pediatric Pulmonary Training Directors Association (president, 1998-2000), American Society of Transplant Physicians, European Respiratory Society, Pennsylvania Thoracic Society, Alpha Omega Alpha.


My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient, Times Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Also contributor of articles to medical journals; author of introduction, Michael M. Sherry's Confronting Cancer: How to Care for Today and Tomorrow.

SIDELIGHTS: Throughout his medical education and career, Geoffrey Kurland had focused on the study of the diseases and the care of the lungs. So it was a rather strange twist of fate that, after Kurland complained to his own doctor that he had been experiencing chest pains, he was told that his lungs were suffering from a rare form of cancer. Kurland came to understand through this experience that despite his long years both in school and in his medical practice, he never fully understood what it meant or what it felt like to endure a serious disease. The lessons he learned taught him how to see his profession from the other side of the operating table, and resulted in his book My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient.

Ironically, a few years prior to publishing My Own Medicine, Kurland wrote the introduction to Michael M. Sherry's book Confronting Cancer: How to Care for Today and Tomorrow, a book that guides patients through the overwhelming experiences of fighting cancer. However, Kurland, at that time, was unaware of his own future battle with the disease and wrote his introduction from the more objective stance as a physician. At this point in his life, he understood the nature of cancer and how it affected the body, but it was not until 2002, after contending with his own illness and his fight for life, that Kurland gained a completely different perspective, one learned through the pain, fear, and humiliation caused by the disease and the subsequent attempts to rid the body of the malignancy.

Kurland was forty-two years old and a long-distance runner when he was told that he had hairy cell leukemia, a rare cancer with a high remission rate. The reality of his affliction and the subsequent medical procedures he was forced to endure because of the disease caused many changes in his life, both physical and psychological. For example, Kurland, who was training for a rigorous 100-mile race through the mountains of California and considered himself very physically fit, had to learn to face his own mortality. On a professional level, he realized that he needed to re-examine his own medical practices, in particular, how he viewed his patients and the management of their pain. As Kim Uden Rutter wrote in Library Journal, Kurland's condition made him "examine his relationships with his own patients."

Kurland's memoir is not just an account of his struggle with the disease and how it affected his practice; it is also a reflection of his entire life. For instance, Kurland also took the time to reflect on important personal relationships, such as the one with his mother and his father, a physician at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, and the one he shares with his lover, Denise. These deliberations Booklist's William Beatty declared to be the "main threads binding the events" of Kurland's memoir.

Most reviewers found Kurland's book readable, among them a writer for Kirkus Reviews who stated that Kurland "deftly" translates medical terminology into everyday language to make My Own Medicine a "story accessible to all." New York Times reviewer Diane Cole found another reason Kurland's book is so readable: his "humility in the face of uncertainty." Kurland admits that his previously held beliefs about his patients and their needs and expectations are in error. He discovers and does not hesitate to admit that doctors' answers often do not allay patients fear. Patients will only be assured if they are told that everything will turn out all right, something doctors cannot always do. Another quality of Kurland's writing Cole appreciated is his sense of humanity, "which his own bout with illnesses has clearly enhanced, and from which both his patients and his readers will benefit."



Booklist, August, 2002, William Beatty, review of My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient, p. 1897.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient, p. 859.

Library Journal, August, 2002, Kim Uden Rutter, review of My Own Medicine: A Doctor's Life as a Patient, pp. 128-129.

New York Times, October 13, 2002, Diane Cole, "Changing Places," p. 26L.


Seacoast Online,http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/ (November 17, 2002), "In the Patient's Shoes."*