Book review: This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adam Kay is a phenomenal talent. Firstly, there’s the whole ‘being clever enough to train at university to be a doctor’ thing. Then there’s the ‘managing the best part of a decade training as doctor’ and surviving it. These two on their own are accolades enough, though he shares them with countless thousands in this country who have done the same.

But on top of that, Kay has the gift of being supremely funny and the further gift of communicating that well in writing without coming across as an absolute pretentious knob – something, alas, too many doctors are prone to, especially as they climb ever higher towards that cushy consultancy post.

Kay’s writing is humbling – he’s writing about the day to day experience of HNS staff, how could it be anything else? – and he’s painfully honest about his own shortcomings. He comes over as genuine, concerned for his patients, feeling and, most of all, utterly, utterly knackered; both physically and emotionally.

My only reason for not awarding a full five out of five stars is the build up in the blurb and various advertisements for this bestseller that oversell the ‘heartbreaking’ nature of what he talks about and, ultimately, the reason for his leaving the medical profession. I don’t want to give spoilers but I will say that I found his reason to be rather weak in the end, in terms of literary build up. That’s an important point for, knowing a lot of doctors, nurses and surgeons as I do, I wouldn’t blame anyone for leaving the profession at any time, for any reason. There’s no such thing as a ‘weak’ reason to leave. But by the time you’ve read all that Dr Kay went through, the final blow seems almost anticlimactic. What happened has undoubtedly happened to every experienced doctor in the country in some form or another. They don’t all give up.

It’s difficult to write this and not sound judgemental; I’m not, but I don’t understand the publishers hyping the end. In many ways, I found a completely different aspect of his life far more tragic and it is so understated in the text you could miss it if you aren’t paying attention. Again, no spoilers, but I really did feel for the author as a human being here rather than sympathise with his plight as a doctor.

But I need to claw away from this criticism because it is already seems much bigger than it is. The fact is, you can’t help but be moved emotionally through each and every chapter – and often each diary entry – and also be hilariously entertained at the same time. Adam Kay is, as I said, incredibly talented. He avoids the melodrama and doesn’t allow the humour to descend to slapstick. That said, there were a few times when I simply roared with laughter. Watch out for the entry on Monday 30 August 2004. I thought I was going to die, if that’s not inappropriate to say.

This is an ideal ‘toilet-shelf’ book or gift for ‘the person who has everything’ which can be dipped into, read on a brief journey or otherwise bring amusement to your guests as they make use of your royal throne. I don’t know if it will be thought of as a ‘classic’ in the decades to come, but it certainly is a brilliant testament to the courage and humanity of those who worked in the medical services in the early part of this century. And for now, the book remains absolutely relevant and true.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways and Lancashire Life magazine. Currently reviews for Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 5.5 million times.


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