When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart?
Jillian Horton, a general internist, has no idea what to expect during her five-day retreat at Chapin Mill, a Zen centre in upstate New York. She just knows she desperately needs a break. At first she is deeply uncomfortable with the spartan accommodations, silent meals and scheduled bonding sessions. But as the group struggles through awkward first encounters and guided meditations, something remarkable happens: world-class surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians and general practitioners open up and share stories about their secret guilt and grief, as well as their deep-seated fear of falling short of the expectations that define them. Horton realizes that her struggle with burnout is not so much personal as it is the result of a larger system failure, and that compartmentalizing your most difficult emotions—a coping strategy that is drilled into doctors—is not useful unless you face these emotions too.
Jillian Horton throws open a window onto the flawed system that shapes medical professionals, revealing the rarely acknowledged stresses that lead doctors to depression and suicide, and emphasizing the crucial role of compassion not only in treating others, but also in taking care of ourselves.
“Her writing is brilliant. And the story of her burnout as a medical doctor is just heartbreaking enough to keep you longing for the resolution you know is coming. Maybe the best thing about this book is that Jillian Horton allows you to grow as she grows, while saving you the pain of the struggle. But you will grow.”
— Alan Alda
“In this profound and compassionate book, Jill Horton offers deep reflections on burnout, a family illness that had a profound effect on her development as a physician, and the private suffering of women in the healing professions. A must read.”
— Dr. Ron Epstein, author of Attending
"A bright, new voice – often very funny – weaves a brief retreat and a life into a concerto about being a modern doctor. Sometimes startling, it evokes both Holden Caulfield and Martin Arrowsmith in revealing the multiply talented Jillian Horton’s discoveries about achieving a rich equanimity in presence. Doctors and patients of every age will want to read it word-for-word as I did.”
— Richard I. Levin, M.D., CEO of the Gold Foundation
“...an ode to the healing of healers. The author’s fierce love for humanity and life shines brilliantly throughout. In a plaintive yet compelling voice, Dr. Jillian Horton gives us a rare glimpse into the hearts and minds of highly-trained physicians, their vulnerability and perpetual angst. Jillian uses a balance of artful intensity and levity to recount her five-day healing journey alongside a cast of intriguing peers in a seemingly inadvertent yet urgent plea for reform in the training and specialization of those who care for the health of our society. This is a book I didn’t want to put down.”
— Darrel J. Macleod, author of Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age
“Early on in We Are All Perfectly Fine, Jillian Horton says she had to choose between becoming a doctor and an author. What great luck for us that with this book she is now, wonderfully, both. It’s not the most expected memoir experience to feel like you’re in the grip of an action thriller, especially one that centres around five days at an often-silent meditation retreat. It’s that silence, ultimately—for our turbulent, cynical, funny narrator—that gives her and us the heart to keep going, no matter what’s coming next.”
— Cathrin Bradbury, author of The Bright Side
"This searing, real, and often funny account of her mid-life passage...is inspiring. A mother of three, her story moves from years of caring for her severely damaged sister, through trying her best as a med school dean charged with nurturing doctors in training, and finally to asking for help herself in a week-long Zen retreat that cracks open her doubt and moves her through her stuck journey as a doctor and human being. A bold account of great suffering, and great healing. All of us who work in "healthcare" can find an ally here, wise, dedicated, and kind. Super book."
— Samuel Shem, M.D., Professor of Medicine in Medical Humanities at NYU School of Medicine, author of The House of God and its sequel, Man's 4th Best Hospital
“[Dr. Jillian Horton] is truthful about medicine as a career, and analyzes its flaws in a precise and courageous way. . . .We Are All Perfectly Fine will change how doctors are trained and treated. It is one icy medication, but like the vaccine, it will bring us into the light.”
— Toronto Star
“Horton is able to face the grief she’s lived through – the pain of her childhood, the loss of her disabled sister and the guilt over patients she couldn’t save. She then sets out to rediscover the pieces of herself she’s had to shut down during long, sleep-deprived, stressful hours at the hospital. This is a poignant book and, at times, a funny one. It’s likely to resonate with health care workers everywhere. A tome for the times.”
— Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“This is not a self-help book; it a very wise account of one woman’s journey to living mindfully. For Horton, this means not entirely giving up on changing the world, but savouring the world as it stands as well. It means accepting that just because you cannot save someone, you are not a failure. The book ends with a very moving story of tragedy and resilience that shows what living in the moment really means.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
About the Author:
Jillian Horton, M.D., is an award-winning medical educator, writer, musician and podcaster. She completed a residency and a fellowship in internal medicine at the University of Toronto and has held the post of associate dean and associate chair of that department. For sixteen years, she has cared for thousands of patients in an inner-city hospital. During that time, she had three sons and mentored hundreds of students. She now leads the development of new programs related to physician wellness and won the 2020 AFMC–Gold Humanism Award. As a teacher of mindfulness, she is sought after by doctors at all stages of their careers. Horton completed a master’s in English at the University of Western Ontario before beginning her journey into the heart of medicine.