Book Review: Another Day in the Frontal Lobe (Firlik)

Author: Katrina Firlik, M.D. © 2006

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Medical memoir / autobiography

Sub-genre: Nervous system-surgery, Neurosurgery, Medical history & records

Reviewer: Sara

Book received by: Purchased at B&N.

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Amazon book synopsis:

“Katrina Firlik is a neurosurgeon, one of only two hundred or so women among the alpha males who dominate this high-pressure, high-prestige medical specialty. She is also a superbly gifted writer–witty, insightful, at once deeply humane and refreshingly wry. In Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Dr. Firlik draws on this rare combination to create a neurosurgeon’s Kitchen Confidential–a unique insider’s memoir of a fascinating profession.

Neurosurgeons are renowned for their big egos and aggressive self-confidence, and Dr. Firlik confirms that timidity is indeed rare in the field. “They’re the kids who never lost at musical chairs,” she writes. A brain surgeon is not only a highly trained scientist and clinician but also a mechanic who of necessity develops an intimate, hands-on familiarity with the gray matter inside our skulls. It’s the balance between cutting-edge medical technology and manual dexterity, between instinct and expertise, that Firlik finds so appealing–and so difficult to master.

Firlik recounts how her background as a surgeon’s daughter with a strong stomach and a keen interest in the brain led her to this rarefied specialty, and she describes her challenging, atypical trek from medical student to fully qualified surgeon. Among Firlik’s more memorable cases: a young roofer who walked into the hospital with a three-inch-long barbed nail driven into his forehead, the result of an accident with his partner’s nail gun, and a sweet little seven-year-old boy whose untreated earache had become a raging, potentially fatal infection of the brain lining.

From OR theatrics to thorny ethical questions, from the surprisingly primitive tools in a neurosurgeon’s kit to glimpses of future techniques like the “brain lift,” Firlik cracks open medicine’s most prestigious and secretive specialty. Candid, smart, clear-eyed, and unfailingly engaging, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe is a mesmerizing behind-the-scenes glimpse into a world of incredible competition and incalculable rewards.”



Busy moms (and dads), here is a book that is not for the faint of heart, but one that will likely touch yours. I first read Another Day in the Frontal Lobe in the midst of my graduate program, preparing to become a physician assistant. Dr. Firlik fascinated me, right off the bat, not only for the fascinating stories and experiences she had to share, but also for the natural way she told the stories. It’s no small feat for someone with a high level of intelligence to explain a complex condition or surgery and have it translate well to a novel or memoir. Her prose is a smooth, easy read and drew me into the room with her such that when the case wrapped up, I was eager for the next one.

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe delves into both the brain through case studies and into the mind of Dr. Firlik. She tells her story, from early influences to college decisions and med school, with residency getting the greatest focus. I noticed there are a number of negative reviews of this book, most of whom seemed to expect a different story than the one that is marketed. The book is titled “Another Day in the Frontal Lobe.” It seems fitting that so much of the book is focused on cases, patients and on the subject that is a major focus for a neurosurgical resident: the brain. If majority of the book was not about neurosurgery cases, I would say there was an issue with presentation and marketing of the book. But in my opinion, it delivers what it promised.

Dr. Firlik shows compassion, but does so while offering frank insight to the world of medicine, of neurosurgery, from a physician’s perspective.  She did not promise to write an unbiased book about the field of neurosurgery. She wrote an autobiography, a book about her experience, cases on which she worked, and life from residency training to the sought after status of “attending physician.” In this book, a number of subjects are raised, which is what happens when treating human patients and their loved ones. She expresses her opinions about the field of medicine, religion, other practitioners, and our litigious society, to name a few. Who doesn’t have opinions about these subjects? She will offend some. Who doesn’t?

Readers, I definitely think this is a book that worthy of your time, so I make this recommendation before reading it: Consider seeing what she describes, feeling what she feels as if you stood in her shoes. Not in yours. That ability to be considerate and compassionate of all our fellow men and women is how we come to understand each other. From understanding we can learn to better communicate and work together. And hopefully, at the end of this book, you, too, will have a little more insight as to what it is to be a resident, and an attending, in the high-pressure field of neurosurgery. Hopefully this book will encourage you to do a little (or a lot) of research into the science of a disease and it’s treatment, into evidence-based medicine practices, and ask informed questions when the time comes that it is you sitting in the patient chair.


Have you read Another Day in the Frontal Lobe or is it on your “to-read” shelf? What was your favorite part? Have you read the other medical / physician memoirs? If so, which is your favorite, and why?

I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to the “to-read-and-review” shelf, especially by indie or newly published authors. If you have any to recommend, please share in the comments and many thanks!

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Featured image: Book design by Casey Hampton

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