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The Pocket Pediatrician. Edited by M Seear. (Pp 626; £19.95 paperback.) Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-56881-1.
Warning: do not take this title literally. Not only is this obviously not a paediatrician, but it is unlikely to fit in your pocket. However take the title figuratively, and it aptly describes this manual of paediatrics: complete but succinct.
Another handbook. Is there any need for it? And if so, is it any good? The answer to the first question depends on what the book aims to do and whether it has been done before. Written by the paediatricians of the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver this book is based on the handbook given to their trainees and residents, and it aims to give practical advice to junior doctors, medical students, and nursing staff. The key word here is ‘practical’: a basic knowledge of the common conditions encountered in paediatrics is assumed, allowing it to focus on diagnosis and specific management. To the best of my knowledge this handbook is unique in this respect, and it is exactly what junior doctors require. Other handbooks either are restricted to major emergencies or a short version of a textbook, with non-specific or no advice on management.
However, for the same reasons I would question the usefulness of this book for medical students, at least in this country. The average medical student would be more likely to want to know what the haemolytic uraemic syndrome is, than how to manage it. That apart, the answer to the first question of whether there is any need for this book, is yes.
To answer the second question I put the book to the ultimate test and took it on call with me for a whole weekend. It was very useful. The chapters are clear and concise, with emergency management separated from background information and further management. Common conditions are given priority, and they are approached as they would be clinically, without having a final diagnosis. For example the cardiology chapter is divided into broad headings of cardiac failure, cyanosis and murmurs, rather than into individual structural cardiac conditions. There is a comprehensive pharmacology section which includes comments on the major side effects and interactions of each drug, as well as a good chapter on surgical problems. The answer to the second question of whether the book is good, is also yes.
One final area which sets this book apart from its competitors is that it attempts to tackle some of the ethical and practical problems of being and surviving as a junior doctor. The authors obviously considered these areas as important as how to manage a severe case of croup—important enough to include them in a pocket book. This is an attitude which is more prevalent on the other side of the Atlantic than it is here, and it is refreshing to see the issue being dealt with head-on, rather than relying solely on hard learned experience.