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Stan and Deliver:
Interview with Dr. Stanley Berry

By Carin Chea

Dr. Stan Berry is the most successful failed English major you will ever meet.

After dropping in and out of college over a span of six years, Dr. Berry became every traditional parent’s dream: He (temporarily) abandoned his liberal arts education and seamlessly transitioned into a successful career in medicine.

Now, after over 38 years in the practice of obstetrics, Dr. Berry has come full circle. A Fight For Full Disclosure (Berry’s first novel) draws from his medical expertise.

Though inspired by Dr. Berry’s career, A Fight For Full Disclosure presents us with the uncomfortable moral and ethical crossroads health professionals inevitably encounter.

A compelling and gripping read, Berry’s maiden novel is smart, magnetic, and compassionate, just like its author.

A Fight For Full Disclosure by Stanley M. Berry

Your life journey is amazing. It’s funny how medicine became your Plan B, so to speak. Normally it’s the other way around.

I started off wanting to be a writer, but I didn’t have the discipline or the courage. It takes courage to launch into a career of serious writing. I didn’t’ really know what I wanted to do. I was an English major and I call myself a “failed” English major because I didn't get a degree.

In one of the many times I dropped in and out of seven years of being an undergrad, I read A Farewell to Arms, and I was impulsive enough to pick up the phone and call the county ambulance service because the protagonist was an ambulance driver during World War I.

The ambulance service said they were hiring people in the next two weeks. I applied and got the job. I was fed up with liberal arts education, though I am a huge believer in liberal arts as an educational framework. I’d gotten disillusioned with the abstractness of it.

All of a sudden, I’m in an environment where they train me to be an emergency medical technician in 80 hours. One day I was learning how to do CPR, and three days later I was doing it on a patient. That was very appealing to me.

At that time, there were no junior college programs available to become a paramedic. The hospital had its own program, and it was six months long. I went through that program and became a certified paramedic.

I decided that if I got my act together, I could become a physician. I started off by taking a year’s worth of chemistry over two months, which almost killed me.

That is very intense! I remember those summers.

I was thinking about my roommate that summer. One time I said to him, “I’m surprised you still talk to me!”

Eventually, I quit working full time and went back to school full time, got into medical school, graduated, and then decided I wanted to do obstetrics.

Why obstetrics?

I’d done all my other med school rotations, and nothing appealed to me a great deal. Obstetrics was the only thing I hadn’t tried. I prayed, “Oh please let me like this because it’s the only field I haven’t tried.” Thankfully, it worked out.

I got attracted to the obstetrics side more than the gynecology side. I devoted myself to patient care, teaching, and research, and wrote a lot of medical literature, and did only a little bit of creative writing.

Then a story came along and just grabbed me and I couldn’t let it go, and it wouldn’t let me go. It took me only 12 years to write this book.

This is a non-sequitur, but you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you’re an intimidating person, but I find you to be very personable and delightful.

I’m 6’5” tall, Black, and I have hair on my face. I intimidate people I never meant to intimidate. I had to decide whether the intimidation some people felt about me was my problem or their problem. In terms of a career and going forward, I chose to help un-intimidate people.

Because of my specialty, I would get white suburban women who would be referred to me. I’d walk into the room, and some would look as if they were about to drop.

There’s one thing I learned from my mother who was a psychiatric social worker. Some physicians she liked and some she couldn’t stand. One of her favorite physicians would always sit on the stool in the exam room and be physically positioned lower than her, so she would be looking down at him.

I use that, and humor, to un-intimidate people.

Dr. Stanley Berry

You’re a Maternal-Fetal doctor. What made you choose this specialization?

It had a little bit of everything – internal medicine, surgery, radiology, rheumatology. I really liked that. Once I started my residency, I was fascinated by my 2nd patient - the fetus - that I couldn’t touch. I could listen to its heart and see some of the fetus on the ultrasound, but I couldn’t touch it, and that situation fascinated me.

I have never heard of it framed like that before.

I dealt with a lot of women who had reason to be very anxious about their pregnancies, and I prided myself on lowering their anxiety levels, which I did a lot through humor. It was such a fulfilling calling to be able to help get a woman through the pregnancy.

These women would come to me with high-risk pregnancies, and we would get a good outcome the vast majority of times. It was tremendously fulfilling. There was some heartbreak because no one is always successful. I like the problems I had to confront in that specialty.

I did a lot of fetal diagnosis and therapy; transfusing fetuses for Rh disease was one of my niche areas. I experienced a range of emotions with my patients, and it has been quite a fulfilling career.

Tell us about A Fight for Full Disclosure. Was there a defining moment that made you decide to write this novel?

This book encompasses the totality of my experiences in medicine. I tell people that what I wrote about amounted to pages that are torn out of the scrapbook of my career. Some ideas in the book I had thought about for a long time, and I worked into the story.

The foster care system, I always thought, was a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that kids who don’t have parents are thrust into the world at the age of 18. There were also behaviors on the part of physicians that were peripheral to the story that I wrote about. There was a lot of me in the story, in the role of one of the main protagonists.

The story is about a single mother of three young kids who’s also a popular high school teacher. She goes into the hospital to have a routine surgery and the main surgeon is a doctor she’s seen for 15 years. Things don’t go as planned and the hospital has to make a decision of whether they’re coming clean about what really happened.

The main protagonist is the department chair of the hospital that has to face an attempt by the hospital to ruin his reputation and actually fire him. He decides that no matter what, he’s going to pursue the truth and try to get to the bottom of things.

I have a feeling it happens more times than not, particularly with hospitals not willing to share with patients when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to go. To this day, hospitals are far too unwilling.

I’m not saying they never tell patients what happened, but for the most part it just doesn’t happen. In a very limited number of cases do physicians actually step up and tell patients what really happened when outcomes are unexpectedly bad.

I want the book to show that things can be better when hospitals decide to be open. When good people stand up, they can stop bad people from doing bad thing, but they have to understand that there’s a price for doing that.

If, however, they’re successful, the gratification they get from their actions is worth the stress and the strain they’re put through.

To paraphrase a famous statement, I believe the reason evil exists is because good people refuse to stand against it. Having said that, I fully realize it takes a lot of courage to stand up to evil.

What or who has influenced you the most as a writer?

Ernest Hemingway was one, and I hasten to add that some of his behavior was despicable.

That’s right. I read one of your interviews and you’d mentioned that you’d invite Hemingway over for dinner to learn more about him, despite him being a racist and sexist. That’s a wonderful attitude you have, which is one of curiosity and listening.

I like to talk with people who have views in opposition to mine who are willing to talk about those views without shouting and getting angry about it. I like having friends who don’t think the same way I do. I would serve Ernest a dinner of wild antelope. He was a big game hunter.

I found his writing style very compelling and attractive. I love his way of using short sentences and the way he was able to bring out points in a subtle way.

I tell people, though, it took me a while to admit that I was not Ernest Hemingway, and it’s okay for me to write a sentence that’s more than six words long.

I also enjoy Toni Morrison and her use of historical context. Like John Irving in Cider House Rules, sometimes I’d almost put her books down because her opening chapter sometimes bored me to death, and then all of a sudden, they would pick up, grab me and I was hooked.

Ralph Ellison is another of my favorites, although he was never able to write a second novel.

Who would play the leads if your novel was made into a movie or mini-series?

The main person I would have liked to play the lead is gone, and that’s Chadwick Boseman. He had so much more range than many other actors out there.

But, otherwise, it would be Denzel Washington.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like us to know about?

I have a few people in their 80s who told me to hurry and write the sequel because if it takes 12 years for me to write another book, they may not be around to read.

I’ve started very preliminarily on another novel about medical research, but recently a non-medical story has grabbed me and won’t let go. It will be the story of my next novel.

For more information, please visit StanleyMBerry.com.

Hollywood, CA

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