Anybody considering medical school, or already toiling there, has to read this book. Everyone else should too. Victoria Sweet’s account of discovering her vocation never once uses the word passion. Instead, she calls attention to time’s mysterious power to reveal purpose. Her memoir of growing slowly into her calling is about learning not just to save lives but to make a life.

Riverhead

Sweet’s first book, God’s Hotel, was about her quest to set her patients—ailing and destitute people at one of the last remaining almshouses in the U.S.—on a path of gradual healing unavailable from hurried, high-tech health care. This time her observant gaze and artful prose focus on signposts along her path toward that mission.

As a California college student in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Sweet boarded with a family whose “sort of hippie” ethos left its mark. In medical school, key moments of guidance (and also arrogance) came when least expected. Stints at out-of-the-way clinics supplied rare colleagues and unusual crises. A trek across Nepal as a physician proved essential, too, in shaping a version of medicine that, without renouncing mechanical fix-it prowess, aims to nurture patients’ own curative powers.

That cause now has a name, “slow medicine,” and it couldn’t have a better champion than Sweet. Her personal odyssey is more stirring than any polemical manifesto could be.