An American Doctor in Rome
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“When I migrated from the banks of the East River to the Tiber shores the path was strewn with bureaucratic boulders, landmines, and pitfalls. I offer the tale of my odyssey as an object lesson to would-be fellow cosmopolites in that art of abandoning all hope the Italians like to call pazienza.”
After completing her medical training in New York, Susan Levenstein set off for a one year adventure in Rome. Forty years later, she is still practicing medicine in the Eternal City. In Dottoressa: An American Doctor in Rome Levenstein writes, with love and exasperation, about navigating her career through the renowned Italian tangle of brilliance and ineptitude, sexism and tolerance, rigidity and chaos.
Part memoir—starting with her epic quest for an Italian medical license—and part portrait of Italy from a unique point of view, Dottoressa is packed with vignettes that illuminate the national differences in character, lifestyle, health, and health care between her two countries. Levenstein, who has been called “the wittiest internist on earth,” covers everything from hookup culture to neighborhood madmen, Italian hands-off medical training, bidets, the ironies of expatriation, and why Italians always pay their doctor’s bills.
In conversation: Susan Levenstein discusses her book with Alexander Stille at an event hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute New York. Watch here.
“Levenstein’s devotion to the Italian practice of medicine is admirable, and she delivers a charming story well told.”
“A funny and endearing but also deadly serious memoir of the Italian health care system by an astute and caring outsider.”
“While sharing the many difficulties she’s faced as an outsider to the Italian health-care system—with its piles of paperwork, unwritten rules, and old boy networks—Levenstein also writes a love letter to Italy . . . The first chapters recount, with a combination of exasperation and humor, the years-long obstacle course she encountered in her quest to practice medicine in the country. She proceeds to talk about everything from what a well-dressed Italian physician should wear, to, in a particularly wise and witty chapter, love and sex from both an Italian and an American perspective. A timely epilogue discusses the Affordable Care Act from her unique position as an American expat and an Italian physician, with Levenstein reflecting on how Italians, despite widespread dissatisfaction with their own health system, manage to live more healthily than Americans.”—Publishers Weekly
"Her lighthearted yet trenchant memoir, Dottoressa, highlights the myriad differences between the United States and Italy as revealed by their health care systems . . . Switching between personal anecdote and general information about Italy, the book seeks to avoid stereotypes while being forthright about cultural differences."—Times Literary Supplement
"Finally an expat memoir which is not about food, foreign men, or house renovation, rich with insights into what makes these irresistible Italians tick . . . As the debate over universal healthcare, cost-cutting, and co-paying continues, Levenstein offers some timely, illuminating advice packed into a fascinating expat memoir both thought-provoking and fun to read."
—The Italian Insider
"These days, hundreds of policy papers and newspaper editorials regularly debate competing claims of medical efficiency, patient care, cost-containment, and expanding reach. But none do so with Levenstein’s humor and sensitivity to the human condition. And they certainly don’t make it fun — never mind being able to set the story in the Eternal City."—The American
"Dottoressa has the feel of an opera, with a prelude, three acts, and three interludes. Levenstein’s libretto is captivating and the aria she sings compelling. This Jewish female internist is determined to coax doctors and patients to see one another as human beings. She writes her prescription legibly—injecting humor to alleviate tedium, with enough Italian scenes to have US readers packing their suitcases."—The Woven Tale Press
"An impressively candid, insightful, exceptionally well written and entertaining life story."—Midwest Book Review
"This is one of those rare books that makes me want to underline every other sentence and put a star in the margin next to almost every paragraph. Dr. Susan Levenstein’s story of her forty years of experiences as an American female physician practicing in Rome is at once fascinating, frightening and funny, a lively, insightful and witty tour through an aspect of Italian life that few American visitors to Rome ever experience."—Fra Noi
“Dr. Levenstein’s gripping account of her experience as an American doctor in Rome is more than a memoir, it is a portrait of a changing country and the evolution of healthcare as seen from behind her stethoscope. It is as funny as it is poignant. A must read for anyone who thinks they understand medicine, Italy, or humanity.”—Barbie Latza Nadeau, Italy bureau chief of The Daily Beast and author of Roadmap to Hell: Sex, Drugs and Guns on the Mafia Coast
“Susan Levenstein’s Dottoressa is a smart, funny, charming, highly readable memoir of practicing medicine in Italy and is full of astute insights into the way Italy works. Approaching Italy from the vantage point of the medical profession and its health system is actually a great way to understand important aspects of Italian society. There is corruption and cronyism, the dysfunctional university system that produces a massive oversupply of doctors, (many of whom remain unemployed), but at the same time an often quite efficient national health system that treats everyone and often with better results than the more expensive American system.”—Alexander Stille, author of Benevolence and Betrayal, Excellent Cadavers, and The Force of Things
“We waited for a writer who never arrived. We expected—in vain—a sociologist who would study and explain us. We hoped for a historian to deconstruct and re-construct the euphoric and problematic ‘life in Italy.’ Then along came Dr. Levenstein, apparently confined to a world of physicians and patients. Luckily she kept notes, and has written a book that must be read. It proves that a stethoscope can be a good instrument to explore not just a person, but a society.”—Furio Colombo, formerly of NYU, Columbia University, and editor of The New York Review of Books in Italy, author of Immigrants: The Hunt is On and Trump Power
“Susan Levenstein gives us a fascinating account of her life as an American doctor in the Eternal City, including an analysis of Italian healthcare that is both informed and terrifying. A must read for anyone who contemplates relocating to Rome—if they want to live long enough to enjoy their Italian dream.”—Matthew Kneale, author of English Passengers and Rome: A History in Seven Sackings
“Susan Levenstein is arguably the wittiest internist on earth, whose droll, mordant voice comes through even in papers she writes for technical medical journals. In Dottoressa, Levenstein offers a memoir of her years as a decidedly unconventional doctor in a decidedly unconventional setting. She is a born raconteur, and has the observational skills of a sardonic cultural anthropologist. This is a wonderfully fun read.”—Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
“One woman’s story of her medical journey from Harvard to Rome and her experiences, in medicine and life, as she practiced her profession in Italy. Her intelligent, candid, and witty observations, with some moving and courageous insights, lead her and the reader to ask what medicine is and could be.”—Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, author of The Other Side of the Tiber, Reflections on Time in Italy
“So far as medicine is concerned, Italy really is a foreign country, where definitions of what ails you, expectations of the physician, and standards of medical practice may come as a surprise. This sharp-eyed, deeply thoughtful, often exhilarating book will enlighten you not only about what it’s like to be an American doctor in Italy but about the whole dolce vita way of life.”—Frederika Randall, journalist, translator, critic, and long-time denizen of Rome
Also available as an ebook:
About the Author
Susan Levenstein has been practicing primary care internal medicine in Italy for four decades, treating an international clientele that’s featured ambassadors and auto mechanics, millionaires and maids, poets and priests. She grew up in New York City and is a graduate of Harvard University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dottoressa is her first book. Learn more about Dr. Levenstein at her blog, Stethoscope On Rome, and at her professional website.