Abraham Verghese (born 1955) is the Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. He was born in Ethiopia to parents from Kerala in south India who, along with hundreds of Keralites, worked as teachers. He is a Syro-Malabar Orthodox Christian, Verghese, his father's Christian name, being Malayalam for George and a very common Suriyani name. In 2009, Knopf published his new book and first novel, Cutting for Stone.
Dr. Verghese began his medical training in Ethiopia, but his education was interrupted during the civil unrest there when the Emperor was deposed and a military government took over. He came to America with his parents and two brothers (his elder brother George Verghese is now an engineering professor at MIT) and worked as an orderly for a year before going to India where he completed his medical studies at Madras Medical College in Madras, now Chennai. In his written work, he refers to his time working as an orderly in a hospital in America as an experience that confirmed his desire to finish his medical training; the experience had given him a first-hand view of patients' experience in the hospital with its varying levels of treatment and care. He has said the insights he gained from this work helped him "imagine the suffering of patients," which became a motto for some of his later work.
After finishing his medical degree (MBBS) from Madras University in 1979, and then completing his internship there, he came to the United States as one of hundreds of foreign medical graduates, or FMGs, from India seeking open residency positions. As he described it in a New Yorker article, "The Cowpath to America," many FMGs often had to work in the less popular hospitals and communities, and frequently in inner cities. He opted for a residency in a brand-new program in Johnson City, Tennessee affiliated with East Tennessee State University. He was a resident there from 1980 to 1983, and then secured a coveted fellowship at Boston University School of Medicine in 1983, where he worked for two years at Boston City Hospital and where he saw the early signs of the urban epidemic of HIV in that city. Returning to Johnson City in 1985 as assistant professor of medicine (he later became a tenured associate professor there), he encountered the first signs of a second epidemic, that of rural AIDS. His work with the patients he cared for and his insights into his personal transformation from being "homoignorant," as he describes it, to having a understanding of his patients resulted a few years later in his first book.
Exhausted from the strain of his work with his patients, with his first marriage under strain and having by then begun to write seriously, he decided to take a break and applied to and was accepted to the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1991. He had cashed in his retirement plan and his tenured position to go to Iowa City with his young family. After Iowa, he accepted a position as Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in El Paso, Texas, where he lived for the next 11 years. Despite his title, he was the sole infectious disease physician for a busy county hospital...Thomason Hospital...for many years. His skills and commitment to patient care resulted in his being awarded the Grover E. Murray Distinguished Professorship of Medicine at the Texas Tech School of Medicine.
During these years in El Paso, he also wrote and published his first bestselling book, A Doctor's Story, about his experiences in East Tennessee, but also pondering themes of displacement, Diaspora, responses to foreignness and the many individuals and families affected by the AIDS epidemic. This book was one of five chosen as Best Book of the Year by Time magazine and it was later made into a movie by Mira Nair with Lost star Naveen Andrews playing his role.
His second book, A Story of Friendship and Loss, also written during his time in El Paso, is another eloquently written personal story, this time about his friend and tennis partner, a medical resident in recovery from drug addiction. The story deals with the ultimate death of his friend and explores the issue and prevalence of physician drug abuse. It also concludes the account of the breakdown of his first marriage, an integral part of the narrative in both My Own Country and The Tennis Partner. This book was reissued in 2009.Dr. Verghese has three children, two grown sons by his first marriage and a third by his second marriage.
In 2002, Dr. Verghese came to San Antonio, Texas as founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he focused on medical humanities as a way to preserve the innate empathy and sensitivity that brings students to medical school but which is frequently repressed through the rigors of their training. In San Antonio, besides developing a formal humanities and ethics curriculum that was integrated into in all four years of study, he invited medical students to accompany him on bedside rounds as a way of demonstrating his conviction about the value of the physical examination in diagnosing patients and in developing a caring, two-way patient-doctor relationship that provides benefits not only to patients and their families but to the physician, as well. At San Antonio, he held the Joaquin Cigarroa Chair and the Marvin Forland Distinguished Professorship.
His deep interest in bedside medicine and his reputation as a clinician, teacher and writer led to his being recruited to Stanford University in 2007 as a tenured professor. His writing and work continue to explore the importance of bedside medicine, the ritual of the physical examination in the era of advanced technology, where, as he notes frequently in his writing, the patient in the bed is often ignored in favor of the patient data in the computer. He is renowned at Stanford for his weekly bedside rounds, where he insists on examining patients without knowledge of their diagnosis to demonstrate the wealth of information available from the physical exam.
His first novel, Cutting for Stone, is set in Ethiopia and written at a time when the old order gave way to the new, a time of great loss for the author himself, who as an expatriate had to leave the country even though he had been born there.
Abraham Verghese's writing has also appeared in The New Yorker,Texas Monthly,Atlantic, The New York Times,The New York Times Magazine,Granta,Forbes.com, and The Wall Street Journal.