Sunday, December 5, 2010

Steve Busalacchi and White Coat Wisdom

Stephen J. Busalacchi is a medical journalist, author and speaker, who reported for National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio for 15 years.

In the process, he won more than two dozen journalism awards. His book White Coat Wisdom, an oral history of extraordinary physicians, has earned three national literary honors: Winner of the Eric Hoffer award for health, and finalist for both the Montaigne Medal and the Indie Book Awards.

Busalacchi is also author of Media Savvy, Media Success!, a quick guide to stellar performance with the news media, as well as End of Life Matters, an abridged version of White Coat Wisdom.

He has spent a decade as a communications specialist for the Wisconsin Medical Society, and more recently, as the principal of a health communications firm in Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters.

Media interview training is something former public radio broadcaster Steve Busalacchi (booz-uh-LOCK-ee) has focused on for the past 12 years. His services are important because the last place you want to be is in the glare of a TV camera with nothing important to say! Steve's Badger Speaker School will make sure you are ready and able to effectively communicate.

Why did you write White Coat Wisdom?

Early in my career as a public radio reporter, I was assigned the medical beat. Frequently, I ended up calling physicians for comment about various health care issues and almost always came away impressed with them. Time after time, each person was not just articulate, but he or she was able to explain complicated scientific matters in a way a layperson could understand. I was struck by that.

And soon after I had begun doing these interviews, I thought to myself, I bet there’s a good story behind each of these people. How did they get like this? Who influenced them along the way? What have they learned?

Then, I started getting into Studs Terkel books like The Good War and Working and I decided an oral history format would be perfect for doctors. Point a microphone toward them and let them speak.

My review of White Coat Wisdom

White Coat Wisdom

By Stephen J. Busalachci

December 4, 2010

ISBN 978-0-0794222-0-1- HC
590 pp; Hardcover
Apollo’s Voice LLC
c. 2008
Non-fiction, Physicians/Medicine-Anecdotes

Stephen Busalacchi is a veteran medical journalist whose work has appeared on National Public radio and Wisconsin Public Radio. He is a former director of public relations for the Wisconsin Medical Society and is the owner of a health communications firm in Madison, Wisconsin. During his years at a health reporter for WPR, he met many physicians. His stories are the seeds for this book. Described in some reviews as an oral history, this large collection of interviews across many ages, types of practice, and specialties of Wisconsin physicians is a candid look inside the professions of thirty-five doctors who share their fascination, love, triumphs and despair with the author.

Busalacchi states in the introduction that he feels his book is something “everyone can relate to” and that everyone should have a trusting relationship with his doctor. “My goal was to personalize the profession” and let doctors tell their own stories. The interview style of asking questions and recording the responses doesn’t quite accomplish this purpose, but Busalacchi’s questions are interesting and the answers often enthralling.

I often include medical issues in my novels, and last year underwent major surgery with a spinal so I could experience as much of my procedure as they would allow. My open-minded surgeon answered my questions about what it was like in the operating room. If you prefer to hold your doctor at arm’s-length awe and have no desire to know how the magic happens, you won’t want to read this book. However, if you’re curious about things like how long it takes to get used to dissecting a cadaver, funky little rhymes about certain professors, the unspoken hierarchy of the different types of education and degrees, or why some current medical students choose their specialties, you’ll love it.

As a historian, I collect oral histories so I was particularly interested in the author’s style for this project. While Busalacchi obtained stunning and stellar endorsements, such as the cover copy from former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, and the Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing, the few typos and inconsistent or misused punctuation is distracting. The author chose to use pencil drawings of his subjects instead of photographs, which I feel detracts from the book.

These distractions are minor in light of the overall project. Busalacchi tackles a huge and compelling topic. For readers of biography and medical issues, White Coat Wisdom is an inspiring and truly intriguing read.

Reviewed by Lisa J Lickel
author of the novels Healing Grace and Meander Scar
A copy of this book was provided by the author

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