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Book and Media Reviews
May 14, 2008

The White House Physician: A History from Washington to George W. Bush

JAMA. 2008;299(18):2214-2216. doi:10.1001/jama.299.18.2214

Dr Deppisch's charming work is a hybrid: on the one hand, it traces the history of medicine in the United States through the lens of the care of presidents; on the other, it examines the presidency as a peculiar medical entity. The book's major axis is chronological but not rigidly so. In the first 11 chapters, Deppisch treats groups of presidents in terms of the characteristic arrangements of each period for presidential medical care. The final 4 chapters are topical—on the 25th Amendment (procedures to be used when a president becomes incapacitated), on psychiatry, on the deaths and major infirmities of vice presidents, and on the post–White House careers of recent presidential physicians. Interpolated into the biographies of presidential physicians, the problems they dealt with, and the changing institutional character of White House medicine are discussions of the waxing and waning of medical sects in the United States, the rise and transformation of the hospital, the predominance of specialization and academic medicine, and the ambiguous status of modern osteopathic medicine. The book is more than a chronicle of physicians attending presidents from the first George to the most recent; it also addresses important themes of democracy and medical ethics, though not always in a focused fashion.