About Dr. Sweet

Dr. Sweet is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a prize-winning historian with a Ph.D. in history. She practiced medicine for twenty years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, where she began writing. In her recent book, God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (Riverhead, 2012), she lays out her evidence—in stories of her patients and her hospital—for some radically new ideas about medicine and healthcare in this country.  In our attempts to get control of healthcare costs by privileging “efficiency,” she suggests, we’ve been headed down the wrong path. Medicine works best—that is, arrives at the right diagnosis and the right treatment for the least amount of money—when it is personal and face-to-face; when the doctor has enough time to do a good job, and pays attention not only to the patient but to what’s around the patient.  Dr. Sweet calls this approach Slow Medicine, and she believes that, put into wider practice, it would be not only more satisfying and beneficial for patient and doctor, but also less expensive for everyone. Her Ecomedicine Project is designed to prove this. The New York Times calls her ideas “hard-core subversion”; Vanity Fair judges the book to be a “radical and compassionate alternative to modern healthcare,” and Health Affairs describes Dr. Sweet as a “visionary” and “subversive in all the best ways.” She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2014) for her next project, tentatively entitled, Slow Medicine, Fast Medicine: Healing in an Age of Technology.

More on Dr. Sweet, especially for Book Groups

It seems that people want to know more about Dr. Sweet than she’d imagined, especially book groups. They want to know more about her family, her upbringing, and what made her go into history. She’s delighted to discover that her traces have been so well-covered, and she’s also delighted to add the following:

“In terms of my background. The main thing for me is that I’m a fourth generation Californian, and almost a fourth generation San Franciscan. My family came to California for the Gold Rush. Some of them went by ship and had to portage across the Isthmus of Panama; others went by covered wagon. So I grew up with many stories about San Francisco. I heard about Emperor Norton, about the 1906 Earthquake, about the failure to get a freeway through the heart of the city, and I grew up with a lot of feeling for the city of Saint Francis. That’s in part why I responded so thoroughly to Laguna Honda.

“I went to Stanford and majored in mathematics, minored in classics. I was always split between science and the humanities. Then I started a PhD program at Harvard in psychology, but realized that medicine would work better for me than basic research. Because to be a good doctor you have to be a scientific humanist and a humanistic scientist.

“As I grew up in medicine, I found myself changed by my patients and I started writing and thinking about everything that came up, early on. The concept of a medicine as a calling and a vocation; the archetype of a physician; the linguistic connection between wholeness, healing and salvation; the split between curing and caring. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and dive into history. It’s a mixed metaphor but true. Especially after I discovered Hildegard and her medicine. And this is where God’s Hotel starts.”

Dr. Sweet speaks frequently to medical professionals and the public about Slow Medicine and related topics. See, for instance, her TEDx talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w17dEDYrhE

Her published work also includes a book on the twelfth century mystic and medical practitioner, Hildegard of Bingen: Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen and Premodern Medicine (Routledge, 2006), and her essay,  “Hildegard of Bingen and the Greening of Medieval Medicine,”(Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1999).