When Moorestown resident Madi Sinha began working on her novel, “The White Coat Diaries,” nearly two decades ago, she knew she wanted to start a conversation about the importance of addressing health-care workers’ mental and emotional health.
Little did she know that when she went to publish her work, that conversation would be relevant more than ever amid a pandemic ravaging the health-care community.
“This pandemic is just magnifying (that conversation),” Sinha said.
A physician herself, Sinha’s debut novel features a fictional protagonist as it draws on Sinha’s own experiences in the medical field. For years, she’d wanted to share the story of her internship year, but she wasn’t quite sure how.
“The White Coat Diaries” follows the fictional protagonist Norah Kapadia, a twentysomething, fresh graduate of medical school who’s just landed a hospital residency. But upset patients, sleep deprivation and pressure from her parents have Norah questioning her future. She begins to think her luck is turning around when she meets respected and charismatic chief resident Ethan Cantor, who becomes more than just her mentor. But when a fatal mistake results in a cover-up, Norah has to decide what she’s willing to risk to protect this secret.
Growing up, Sinha didn’t have family members in the medical field, but she always had an interest in medicine. She was raised just outside of Trenton and completed her undergraduate studies at Villanova University. From there, she attended medical school at the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University).
Upon graduating, she landed a first-year residency at a hospital in Northeast Philadelphia. She’d heard that the internship year is a difficult time for any first-year resident, given a recent release from medical school. Residents are in training, but with more responsibility than they’ve ever had in life.
The experience was a decidedly emotional one for Sinha. She and about 40 other interns quickly discovered the residency program was less than an ideal training ground. Little supervision was offered, and the trainees were left to teach themselves.
Sinha had heard the internship year is a time of growth for everyone, so she just assumed her experience was the norm. But when she graduated from the hospital program and went to work elsewhere, she discovered that her time in the Northeast was certainly less than normal. Looking back, it felt like she and her fellow interns had shared the experience, one that needed to be talked about.
“All of these things happened,” Sinha recalled. “It was hard to reconcile that with moving on to the next phase of my career. There was no one to tell the story to.”
Years went by, but Sinha kept thinking about those early experiences. She’d kept a notebook during that first year, but hadn’t planned on doing anything with the notes until one day when she began thinking that her experiences could make an interesting book or memoir. Having decided a memoir was a bit too personal, she created a character in her head and the story began to unfold.
About a decade later, Sinha was pregnant with her first child, it was winter and she decided she needed a hobby to pass the time. So, she signed up for a writing course at Temple University. Part of the class requirement was that students had to be working on a novel, so she finally began to take the story from her mind and put it on the page.
The class helped give Sinha the confidence to pursue her story. She knew her fellow classmates were interested in what she had to say, because they’d reach out if she was running late with her draft or ask questions about where the story was headed.
Fast forward another eight years, and Sinha had been steadily working on a draft in her free time. She completed her first in 2017, and at the time, she had no familiarity with the publishing process. She connected with her publisher via a Twitter pitch contest and signed with Berkley/Penguin publishers in 2018.
The book hit shelves in September 2020: Sinha said it’s a surreal feeling to walk into a bookstore and see the finished product of years of hard work. She’s already been contacted by readers from across the country and is still getting used to sharing something that she’d kept private for so long.
Sinha’s hope is that the book sparks conversations about the health-care system and the way it trains doctors. She said while the general public may have some understanding that being a doctor is difficult and stressful, burnout in the medical community is often not addressed.
“Burnout was something I went through early on in my career and had to battle my way back from,” she revealed.
While there are conversations going on within the medical community about burnout amid COVID-19, Sinha believes it’s important for people outside the medical community to care as well. From the physician’s perspective, burnout affects the quality of care they provide, and as a patient, it affects the care you receive, she said.
Sinha said no one goes into medicine, to meet certain metrics; they enter the field to care for people. She stressed the medical community needs to start treating health-care workers like a resource and not as an expendable part of the system whose output needs to be maximized, lest a resident be replaced.
“You can’t talk about human beings that way; that’s why we have the problem we have,” Sinha insisted.
She currently practices physical medicine, addressing the intersection between orthopedics and neurology, and her role is primarily to diagnose patients. Patients come to her with symptoms that no one can figure out, and it’s her job to get to the source of them.
Sinha has always loved a good story, and that’s what she finds fulfilling about both writing and her current work if she’s doing it right: They both involve getting to the bottom of a story.
Sinha will discuss “The White Coat Diaries” in a program at the Moorestown Library on Friday, Dec. 18, at 2 p.m. Registration with the library is required. To learn more about Madi Sinha or “The White Coat Diaries,” visit https://www.madisinha.com.