Karen Hitchcock

Karen Hitchcock is a doctor and writer. She is the author of a collection of short fiction, Little White Slips, and the Quarterly Essay ‘Dear Life: On Caring for the Elderly’.

Articles by this author

Public health and personal responsibility
Germ welfare
In my first year of medical school we had a term of lab-based microbiology specifically designed to make us hyper-vigilant about germs. The teacher knew she had to make it...
Medical professionals can be hypochondriacs too
When the doctor needs a doctor
Early Friday morning, I got cancer. Bad cancer, the kind that can colonise your bones. Mine had spread to one bone in particular: a rib in the middle of my chest. To diagnose...
The argument against euthanasia
The right to die or the right to kill?
Celebrity is our religion. Celebrities are our gurus, teaching us what to wear, what to buy, how to look and, now, what to think. They front campaigns for human rights and animal...
In the gallery, human remains are preserved, refashioned and elevated
The art of the body
When I started medical school, the hospital library had a collection of jars and perspex boxes containing preserved fleshy anomalies: gigantic bulbous kidneys, a lung with a...
Why do we smoke and why do we quit?
A former smoker’s lament
I started smoking in high school and happily dedicated myself to the practice for ten years. Ex-smokers adore reminiscing – our favourite brands, when we started and stopped, the...
On lifestyle diseases and quick fixes
Too many pills
At a literary festival, during a discussion of how medicine reflects the values of the society in which it is practised, an interviewer asked me if I thought there would ever be a...
When social services are cut, hospitals are left to fill the holes
Society’s safety net
All my writer friends say, “You’re so lucky to have a real job, which has a real effect, in the real world.” They say it with an existential sigh. “You actually help people.” I...
What role does ego play in medicine?
Love, fear and hierarchy
The first teacher I fell in love with was the fill-in librarian. I was in Grade 4. I’d finally finished the moronic “class readers” and had thus earnt access to the library, a...
Obesity is a health issue, not an identity issue
‘Fat City’ revisited
There is a group of hip-hop dancers in Melbourne who regularly perform along Swanston Street. Most of them are wiry Asians who can bend their limbs like plasticine. But my...
The private health insurance racket
Mind the gaps
A week before the announcement that private health insurance premiums would rise by an average of 6.2% from 1 April, I sat in an audience of 200 or so doctors for my hospital’s...
High times
After lunch at my mum’s house the other day, my brother and I walked around the corner to visit an old school friend we hadn’t seen for years. Pete had moved back into his...
An extract from ‘Dear Life: on caring for the elderly’
A hospital is a place where a sick individual and their loved ones are taken in and shoved up against a group of strangers – clinicians – with whom they develop a relationship...
Do we change our behaviour or wait for a medical breakthrough?
The dementia cure
Mrs Finch was sent to the hospital by her nursing home after she punched an attendant. Prior to the incident she’d apparently been a model inmate. She was delirious, probably due...
How a gruelling physical challenge became a welcome relief
Ironman and medical exams
Around Australia the registrars are about to sit part one of the medical specialist exams, the rigour of which makes medical school exams seem like hopscotch. I feel sorry for...
Practising medicine away from the big cities
The rural doctor problem
Rural and remote hospitals are chronically short of doctors, and they rely on locum agencies to source staff. The agencies recruit aggressively: I used to receive a couple of...
Sometimes a doctor can’t help but kill a patient
Do no harm
A few weeks ago I killed a patient. The patient wasn’t someone I’d met a few times on a ward round, them in extremis, their personal characteristics all out of focus. I’d known...
Does medical screening do more harm than good?
Looking for trouble
I’ve had a mammogram request slip folded into the side pocket of my purse for two years. My GP gave it to me when I turned 40, telling me the time had come to start being screened...
Are GPs prescribing too many antidepressants?
The pill problem
I was at a party. The host stood up, thanked everyone for coming, toasted his family and then told us he had been diagnosed with depression. He turned his head away and pressed...