About Dottoressa: An American Doctor in Rome


Publisher's introduction


After completing her medical training in New York, Susan Levenstein set off for a one year adventure in Rome. Forty years later, she is still practicing medicine in the Eternal City. In Dottoressa: An American Doctor in Rome Levenstein writes, with love and exasperation, about navigating her career through the renowned Italian tangle of brilliance and ineptitude, sexism and tolerance, rigidity and chaos.
Part memoir—starting with her epic quest for an Italian medical license—and part portrait of Italy from a unique point of view, Dottoressa is packed with vignettes that illuminate the national differences in character, lifestyle, health, and health care between her two countries. Levenstein, who has been called “the wittiest internist on earth,” covers everything from hookup culture to neighborhood madmen, Italian hands-off medical training, bidets,  the ironies of expatriation, and why Italians always pay their  doctor’s bills.

Advance praise

“A funny and endearing but also deadly serious memoir of the Italian health care system by an astute and caring outsider.”—Booklist (June Sawyers)

“While sharing the many difficulties she’s faced as an outsider to the Italian health-care system—with its piles of paperwork, unwritten rules, and old boy networks—Levenstein also writes a love letter to Italy . . . The first chapters recount, with a combination of exasperation and humor, the years-long obstacle course she encountered in her quest to practice medicine in the country. She proceeds to talk about everything from what a well-dressed Italian physician should wear, to, in a particularly wise and witty chapter, love and sex from both an Italian and an American perspective. A timely epilogue discusses the Affordable Care Act from her unique position as an American expat and an Italian physician, with Levenstein reflecting on how Italians, despite widespread dissatisfaction with their own health system, manage to live more healthily than Americans.”—Publishers Weekly 

“Levenstein’s devotion to the Italian practice of medicine is admirable, and she delivers a charming story well told.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Dr. Levenstein’s gripping account of her experience as an American doctor in Rome is more than a memoir, it is a portrait of a changing country and the evolution of healthcare as seen from behind her stethoscope. It is as funny as it is poignant. A must read for anyone who thinks they understand medicine, Italy, or humanity.”—Barbie Latza Nadeau, Italy bureau chief of The Daily Beast and author of Roadmap to Hell: Sex, Drugs and Guns on the Mafia Coast

“Susan Levenstein’s Dottoressa is a smart, funny, charming, highly readable memoir of practicing medicine in Italy and is full of astute insights into the way Italy works. Approaching Italy from the vantage point of the medical profession and its health system is actually a great way to understand important aspects of Italian society. There is corruption and cronyism, the dysfunctional university system that produces a massive oversupply of doctors, (many of whom remain unemployed), but at the same time an often quite efficient national health system that treats everyone and often with better results than the more expensive American system.”—Alexander Stille, author of Benevolence and BetrayalExcellent Cadavers, and The Force of Things

“We waited for a writer who never arrived. We expected—in vain—a sociologist who would study and explain us. We hoped for a historian to deconstruct and re-construct the euphoric and problematic ‘life in Italy.’ Then along came Dr. Levenstein, apparently confined to a world of physicians and patients. Luckily she kept notes, and has written a book that must be read. It proves that a stethoscope can be a good instrument to explore not just a person, but a society.”—Furio Colombo, formerly of NYU, Columbia University, and editor of The New York Review of Books in Italy, author of Immigrants: The Hunt is On and Trump Power

“Susan Levenstein gives us a fascinating account of her life as an American doctor in the Eternal City, including an analysis of Italian healthcare that is both informed and terrifying. A must read for anyone who contemplates relocating to Rome—if they want to live long enough to enjoy their Italian dream.”—Matthew Kneale, author of English Passengers and Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

“Susan Levenstein is arguably the wittiest internist on earth, whose droll, mordant voice comes through even in papers she writes for technical medical journals. In Dottoressa, Levenstein offers a memoir of her years as a decidedly unconventional doctor in a decidedly unconventional setting. She is a born raconteur, and has the observational skills of a sardonic cultural anthropologist. This is a wonderfully fun read.”—Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

“One woman’s story of her medical journey from Harvard to Rome and her experiences, in medicine and life, as she practiced her profession in Italy. Her intelligent, candid, and witty observations, with some moving and courageous insights, lead her and the reader to ask what medicine is and could be.”—Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, author of The Other Side of the Tiber, Reflections on Time in Italy  

“So far as medicine is concerned, Italy really is a foreign country, where definitions of what ails you, expectations of the physician, and standards of medical practice may come as a surprise. This sharp-eyed, deeply thoughtful, often exhilarating book will enlighten you not only about what it’s like to be an American doctor in Italy but about the whole dolce vita way of life.”—Frederika Randall, journalist, translator, critic, and long-time denizen of Rome


Post-publication reviews 

"Replete with rich anecdote—some of her Roman clerics and college-abroad students will stick with me forever—Levenstein's new book is a tonic for general readers. But it should particularly be read by those among the policy army advising Democratic candidates on matters of health."—Health Care Renewal (Cetona)

"Tomes have been written about Italians at table in attempts to capture their cultural quintessence but the examination table offers Levenstein a unique vantage point from which to observe the Italian character, diet, approach to love and sex, and philosophy of life. Finally an expat memoir which is not about food, foreign men or house renovation, rich with insights into what makes these irresistible Italians tick."—The Italian Insider (Linda Lappin)

"An impressively candid, insightful, exceptionally well written and entertaining life story”—Midwest Book Review (Julie Summers)

"Dottoressa has the feel of an opera, with a prelude, three acts, and three interludes. Levenstein’s libretto is captivating and the aria she sings compelling. This Jewish female internist is determined to coax doctors and patients to see one another as human beings. She writes her prescription legibly—injecting humor to alleviate tedium, with enough Italian scenes to have US readers packing their suitcases. Andiamo!”—The Woven Tale Press (Lanie Tankard) 

"Levenstein lays out the health care choices all societies must make. These days, hundreds of policy papers and newspaper editorials regularly debate competing claims of medical efficiency, patient care, cost-containment, and expanding reach. But none do so with Levenstein’s humor and sensitivity to the human condition. And they certainly don’t make it fun — never mind being able to set the story in the Eternal City.”—The American Magazine In Italia (Madeleine Johnson) 

"This is one of those rare books that makes me want to underline every other sentence and put a star in the margin next to almost every paragraph. Dr. Susan Levenstein’s story of her forty years of experiences as an American female physician practicing in Rome is at once fascinating, frightening and funny, a lively, insightful and witty tour through an aspect of Italian life that few American visitors to Rome ever experience."—Fra Noi (Judith Testa)

“You will absolutely love this book!”—Modern Italian Network (Gina Andracchio)


Selections and Interviews 

Excerpt: Endings, Beginnings—The New England Journal of Medicine

Excerpt: What Can Italy Teach the Rest of the World About Health?—The Local: Italy

Excerpt: An American Doctor in Rome—KevinMD.com 

Feature interview (in Italian)—Sette del Corriere (Vittorio Zinconi)

Interview about the book’s roots—ExpatClic (Claudiaexpat)



From online reader reviews

Amazon (.com, .co.uk, .de, .it):

"Throw away the guidebooks on Italy. Read this instead. Prepare to laugh . . . Best book I’ve read in a long, long while.”—Dr. Bil Hawkins

"This is a memoir of an expat doctor with the knowledge of a scientist, the passion of an Italian, the pragmatics of an American, and the writerly skills to distinguish the truths from the stereotypes that distort them . . . It's the sort of book that should be assigned in medical school courses designed to teach doctors how to understand what it means to practice the so-called 'art' of medicine patient by patient, day by day. Plus, it's fast, funny and deliciously wry.”—Barry

"This memoir, which reads like good fiction, lays it on, warts and all. Compared to the USA, in the long run Italy comes across as a more humane and healthier place to live. And reading this book will help you "get it," as well as make you laugh out loud.”—Anomalie

“Beautifully written and a delightful read. I think many doctors would enjoy the busman’s holiday aspect of it, with her terrific descriptions of individual patient encounters and systemic problems.”—Gene Bishop

"You will not be able to put down this gem of a book if medicine, health care, or cultural diversity interest you.”—Amazon customer

“Riveting, entertaining, enlightening, moving and thought provoking.”—Abby

"I almost never laugh out loud when reading a book, but in this case I laughed again and again . . . This book will intrigue anyone who is interested in Italy . . . The stories about caring for patients are unusual because of the Italian setting, with a very wide cast of characters, but also provide universal insights that will touch physicians, other health care workers, and patients. The author is unusually honest and revealing about her own weaknesses and illusions...”—Larry Casalino

"What a wonderful book! . . . Even after having lived myself many years in Rome, Dr Levenstein's book had many surprises and insights for me.”—Ioanna in Europe

"I just loved this book! . . . This is a must read for everyone even vaguely connected to the medical profession and everyone who loves Italy!”—Diana, Dublin

"An incredible page-turner”—Ms. Hibiskus

“Dolce vita versus burocrazia, esotismo versus divario culturale, umanità versus nevrosi, il libro racconta con grande tenerezza l'amore particolare, scelto nonostante le incomprensioni, che lega uno straniero alla sua nuova patria di elezione. Francese da vent'anni residente a Roma, mi sono riconosciuta a ogni pagina. Una lettura gradevolissima che fornisce spunti di riflessione utilissimi sul sistema sanitario e la relazione paziente/medico.”—Cliente Amazon


goodreads (overall rating: 4.19 out of 5):

“Levenstein is an exceptional writer with an impressive edge of acerbic wit. I found the glimpse of medical practice, Italian style, terrifically interesting, as well as compelling when compared to its American version.”—Jane

“As a US —> Italy expat myself, reading this book was extremely relatable (and entertaining!) and it offers a very insightful look into the “true” state of affairs regarding Italian medicine. It will help people of any nationality make sense of the way that things are done in Italy, and adjust their expectations accordingly.”—Abigail

“I enjoyed this tale of the expat/emigrate experience in Rome through the lens of practicing medicine.”—Gillian

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