I’m always interested in medicine, so I was intrigued when I spotted “The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives” by Theresa Brown, RN. Brown, who writes a “New York Times” opinion column, is a clinical nurse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It also happens that she was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. This book, her second, covers one shift in the hospital that she works in, 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Brown has followed an unconventional career path. Before becoming a nurse, she earned a PhD in English and taught writing at Tufts, Harvard and MIT. Her writing skills come in very handy here. Written in a narrative style, we begin as Brown prepares to bike to work, then go through her day as she shares her thoughts and feelings and interactions with patients and their families as well as various hospital staff, from escorts (odd title for staff who move patients from place to place) to attending physicians.

If you’ve ever wondered what nurses spend all their time doing, aside from administering medications, checking vital signs, and answering call buttons, it would appear that an enormous amount of time is spent charting: entering onto a computer anything and everything that happens with a patient. Much of this Brown finds reasonable and necessary, but some information seems rather useless to her and she wishes she could use some of that time for time with her patients, really getting to know what they need and just being there as a comforting presence. As it does with many things, the bottom line interferes with the level of patient care she would like to be able to give regularly.

Speaking of patients, on this day in the oncology/hematology department, Brown has four patients. The workload in this department generally is three or four patients, which might not sound like much until you begin to see all the procedures and charting and interactions with patients, family and staff that occur constantly. The 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift handle more patients, but often the patients are asleep for most of the shift, so it’s generally much less hectic.

As to the four patients she has for most of this shift, Brown has Sheila, who’s in for a rare blood clotting disorder and who has some sort of undiagnosed abdominal pain to boot; Dorothy, who is ready for discharge following a six-week stay for chemotherapy treatment; Richard, an elderly lymphoma patient who seems to just want to sleep; and Candace, who’s coming in for a transfusion of her own previously collected cells to treat her cancer.

So, the book chronicles the shift as it happens, with asides about the general experience of hospital nursing, ruminations about the advisability of 12-hour shifts, the imbalance in doctor/nurse relationships (and the difficulty sometimes found in trying to do the best for a patient when the doctor won’t listen because the speaker is “just” a nurse), the struggle to treat patients who are rude or hostile, and so on.

I found “The Shift” to be an interesting look at a world that I have seen a bit of from the “other” side, as well as something akin to a hospital procedural: “why is this patient behaving like this” or “what is medically wrong with her,” like a real-life episode of “Gray’s Anatomy,” without the suds. So, if you are drawn to peeking behind the curtain of other people’s work lives or to mysteries, this may be just the book for you. I found it well-written, accessible, and thought-provoking.