“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 the 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.
“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: Five Italian-Jewish Families Under Fascism, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, and The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace
“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, A Primate's Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
“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
“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
“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
“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, journalist and writer, formerly of NYU and Columbia University, and editor of the New York Review of Books in Italy
About the Author
Susan Levenstein has been practicing primary care internal medicine in Italy since 1978, 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 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.