Reviewed by Jill-Elizabeth

Anyone who has watched the news or read a newspaper is likely aware that the United States is facing a crisis in health care delivery. In The Color of Atmosphere, Dr. Maggie Kozel provides her personal slant on this crisis in the context of the changing nature of her pediatric health care practice.

This engaging memoir opens with the story of Dr. Kozel’s less-than-ideal childhood, which sparked both an interest in medicine and the drive to become a doctor. Her journey to (and through) college, medical school, and residency is presented in a crisp, clear voice. The stories of her personal and professional lives intertwine; she marries a colleague (a neurologist) and at the completion of their residencies the two move to Japan to fulfill their educational obligations to the U.S. Navy.

In Japan, Dr. Kozel gets her first taste of the “official” practice of medicine in a U.S. Naval Hospital; it is not until several years later, when she and her husband return to private practice in the United States, however, that she gets her first taste of the “official” U.S. health care delivery system – and the latter taste is decidedly not to her liking. So much so, in fact, that it ultimately leads her to walk away from medicine altogether.

The journey from bright-eyed, idealistic young doctor-in-training to exhausted, cynical, burned-out pediatrician is an interesting one, full of anecdotes that will touch (and occasionally break) your heart. Dr. Kozel’s book is equal parts personal story and policy analysis. In an easy-to-read narrative style, she blends the joys and challenges of pediatric medical practice from the perspective of a wife and mother with the trials and tribulations of delivering health care in the bureaucratic corporate delivery system that began to grow into its own in the late 1980s – just as she returned to the United States and to private, non-military medicine.

Dr. Kozel’s personal and professional journey, which culminates in her decision to stop practicing medicine and begin teaching high school chemistry, is presented in a way that is touching, entertaining, and insightful. The story was easy to follow and Dr. Kozel and her struggles with “corporate medicine” will likely resonate with anyone who has had occasion to engage with a health plan or hospital in the past twenty years. But resonance aside, I have to respectfully disagree with her ultimate position: that the military health care delivery system should serve as the model for U.S. health care reform.

[amazonify]1603582975[/amazonify]In the spirit of full disclosure, I say this as an attorney and former health policy and government relations professional who spent fifteen years working in the insurance and pharmaceutical sectors. I started my career in Washington, DC, during the Clinton health care reform era. I have more than a little bit of experience and first-hand knowledge backing me up when I say that, while the U.S. health care delivery system is not perfect, abandoning it altogether for a government-sponsored military-esque system is neither practical nor desirable.

I empathize with Dr. Kozel’s internal struggle and agree that there are fundamental problems with our health care system. I appreciate her criticisms and concerns about the erosion in the doctor-patient relationship, and understand why she does not like health insurance company policies, procedures and paperwork. But I have witnessed firsthand the other side and know that those policies, procedures and paperwork serve a purpose – to curb spiraling health care costs, massive personal and governmental spending, declining health outcomes, and unnecessary surgeries, medical tests, and prescriptions.

I may not agree with Dr. Kozel’s policy perspective or politics, but I do believe that it is important that she, and other doctors, nurses, and “health care professionals” (a term she hates, but I like because it encompasses everyone involved in medicine – it is not only doctors who deliver medical care, after all) offer their perspective and engage in the debate about health care reform. And what better way to do so than in an engaging memoir that educates, entertains, and attempts to persuade…

Rating: 3.5/5

A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.


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