Attending Children

A Doctor's Education

Margaret E. Mohrmann, MD

"Attending Children is an extraordinary book. Mohrmann has a clear gift for language, and she enables the reader to care about the children and families she portrays so eloquently."
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In a fast-paced, complicated, and evermore dangerous world it is easy to become self-absorbed and consumed with our own problems. There is one place, however, where we put our self-centered concerns aside, and our deep, common humanity is profoundly touched. That place is where sick children dwell.

It is no less difficult—and perhaps even more difficult in many ways—for physicians who have chosen to attend to the health and well-being of gravely ill or dying children. Margaret Mohrmann has devoted most of her professional life to them, and in Attending Children she shares the remarkable education those children and their families have given her. Her narratives are both painful and hopeful, tragic and funny, full of remarkable characters and sometimes bizarre families.

Mohrmann has sifted through her thirty years as a pediatrician, and with poignancy, humor, and uncompromising honesty, she shares her sometimes stumbling but always deeply caring journey through a land where, sometimes, small hands have to be let go too soon. She introduces us to not only the physical challenges she, her colleagues, and her patients encounter, but the spiritual ones as well.

Attending Children is a unique experience as Mohrmann takes the reader on a doctor's rounds over many years to meet the faces and the struggles, the heartaches and the joys of being a pediatrician. In the case of Margaret Mohrmann and her patients, no one could ask for better teachers.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Attending

Part I: Listening

Chapter 1: Telling Death

Chapter 2: Pain and Longing

Chapter 3: Variations on the Theme of Competence

Chapter 4: Being Mickey's Doctor

Chapter 5: Another Kind of Courage

Part II: Accompanying

Chapter 6: Being There

Chapter 7: Intensive Care

Chapter 8: Power and Powerlessness

Chapter 9: Letting Go and Going On

Chapter 10: Suspending Disbelief

Chapter 11: God Will Find a Way

Part III: Waiting

Chapter 12: Presumptuous Empathy

Chapter 13: Bridging the Distance

Chapter 14: Against All Odds

Epilogue: Still Attending



"Attending Children is an extraordinary book. Mohrmann has a clear gift for language, and she enables the reader to care about the children and families she portrays so eloquently."—New England Journal of Medicine

"Deserves a special place in the library of each and every medical professional who cares for children of all ages."—JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)

"A refreshingly frank first-hand account of [Mohrmann's] journey from nervous medical intern to director of a pediatric intensivecare unit."—The Lancet

"Many pages of this book deserve to be dog-eared by anyone who cares for children in the medical field, particularly medical educators who hope that their lessons live beyond the classroom and medical students who want to know what makes a good physician."—Literature and Medicine

"Margaret Mohrmann gives an eloquent account of her development as a physician and as a human being. Her self-examination is uncompromising, sometimes lacerating, and ultimately redemptive. Mohrmann dissects the differences between her training as a physician and her education as a healer. This book should be read by and meditated upon by anybody who is thinking about or training for a career in medicine."—John Lantos, MD, professor of pediatrics and associate director, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, The University of Chicago

"Attending Children charts a physician’s journey from the beginnings of medical competence to professional and moral wisdom. Exploring not only the experience of illness but also its meaning in the lives of children and their families, Margaret E. Mohrmann uncovers the inner resources needed for conscientious and effective doctoring. Her narratives of suffering and healing, love and loss should be required reading for everyone who works closely with children and adolescents in medical settings. At once moving and compassionate, this book traces the many ways in which illness assaults the young—and challenges the talents of those who care for them."—Richard B. Miller, director of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions and professor of religious studies, Indiana University

"This book will inspire medical students, reaffirm the varieties of humane practicies for her colleagues, and reassure parents that humane care is still possible."—Edmund D. Pellegrino, MD, Chair, President's Council on Bioethics, 2005-2009

"Margaret Mohrmann allows us to see what we hardly dare to imagine: medical practice full of generosity, emptied of ego. No medical writing shows more clearly the profound effects of physicians on their patients' spirit. In the humility and care of these stories, we walk on holy ground."—Arthur W. Frank, professor, department of sociology, University of Calgary, and author of The Wounded Storyteller and The Renewal of Generosity

"Mohrmann has cultivated what Simone Weil called 'attentiveness.' Masterfully relating stories both early and late in her pediatric work, she brings the reader to note the contours of lives lived, not merely the manifesting symptoms of a condition. To explain the abstract principle of autonomy to an aspiring practitioner is one thing. To show her what it means charitably and mercifully to attend to patients is another. As a scholar, I will assign this book. As a mother, I hope that those who treat my daughters will read it."—Amy Laura Hall, assistant professor of theological ethics, Duke University Divinity School


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Margaret E. Mohrmann, MD, is associate professor of religious studies and medical education at the University of Virginia and is the author of Medicine as Ministry: Reflections on Suffering, Ethics, and Hope.

224 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

May 2005

224 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-107-6
May 2005

224 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-245-5
May 2005

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