The Shift

Theresa Brown Algonquin Books, 272 pages, $24.95

"The Shift" should be required reading for all incoming medical and nursing students — or anyone who is a patient or visitor in a hospital.

A clinical nurse who lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze, Theresa Brown takes readers through a typical 12-hour day on a local oncology ward. This is the second book about nursing by Brown, 50, a former English professor at Tufts University and New York Times columnist, who quit teaching midcareer to become a nurse.

From the moment she clocks in at 7:03 a.m., her day is a whirlwind of tough decisions, tense moments, fear, doubt, heartache, compassion and joy.

She receives papers on the patients she'll care for that day: Richard, a lymphoma patient in his late 70s to whom she'll have to administer a risky treatment that could cure him — or kill him. Dorothy, 57, who's nearing the end of her six-week stay for leukemia treatments. Sheila, in her mid-40s, who came in with a blood clotting disorder.

Then Brown is notified that she will care for Candace, who is known as a PITA — Pain in the you-know-what — because her frequent demands keep nurses as busy as two normal patients.

It would have been easy for Brown to over dramatize her experiences in "The Shift," or bore readers with medical speak. But her story is riveting in the exacting way she recounts the way her day unfolds.