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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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Madison author Steve Busalacchi goes to the doctors
White Coat Wisdom profiles Dairyland physicians

In case you ever wondered, it is possible for a doctor to perform -- ulp -- his own vasectomy.

Steve Busalacchi learned as much in researching White Coat Wisdom, in which he profiles 37 Wisconsin doctors, mostly in question-and-answer interviews. Most of the doctors are from Madison or Milwaukee; some live in small towns like Belleville and Menomonee Falls. They are young and old, male and female. They are from a variety of specialties: Surgery, internal medicine, addiction medicine. Some are from overseas.

"Some of the stuff they told me blew me away," says Busalacchi, citing John Riesch, the Milwaukee surgeon who snipped his own vas deferens. Then there's Layton Rikkers, a Madison surgeon who passes out at the sight of his own blood. Not the blood of others, mind you. Only his own.

Busalacchi came to know doctors as a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio, where he covered the health beat for 15 years, and during a nine-year stint in media relations for the Wisconsin Medical Society. The book's direct inspiration was Studs Terkel's oral history Working. "It came to me that these people" -- doctors -- "would be perfect for the same kind of book," Busalacchi says. He began making calls.

He found a group of people who are curious, who are scientifically inclined, who communicate with ease. "They see everyone," says Busalacchi, now of Madison's Busalacchi Communications, a health communications consulting firm. "From top-ranked CEOs to janitors." They have wide-ranging interest outside of medicine, from antique toys to photography. One, Madison's Tina Sauerhammer, made the finals of the Miss America pageant.

Doctors like making good money, but that's generally not why they get into the business. Notes Busalacchi, "They're smart people. There are professions where they can make much more money."

To be certain, Busalacchi reports, the profession is not without its problems. Doctors he interviewed complained about paperwork, about fighting health insurance companies. They fretted that they don't spend enough time with their kids. They worried about spending a fortune on end-of-life care, and not enough on immunizations. What did doctors Busalacchi interviewed think of the prospects of health care reform? "Most of them," he says, "thought that some sort of government-paid system will take over."

But despite the problems, says Busalacchi, "Doctors, at least the ones I talked to, say they'd do it again. They love what they do."

Steve Busalacchi appears at Borders West on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

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