Accidental Kindness

A Doctor's Notes on Empathy

By Michael Stein

218 pp., 5 x 7

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7181-9
    Published: October 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7180-2
    Published: October 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7182-6
    Published: September 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6317-1
    Published: September 2022

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit
We will all be patients sooner or later. And when we go to the doctor, when we're hurting, we tend to think in terms of cause and condemnation. We often look for relief not only from physical symptoms but also from our self-blame. We want from our doctors kindness under any of its many names: empathy, caring, compassion, humanity. We look for safety and forgiveness. But we forget that doctors, too, are often in need of forgiveness—from their patients and from themselves. No doctor enters the medical profession expecting to be unkind or to make mistakes, but because of the complexity of our current medical system and because doctors are human, they often find themselves acting much less kindly than they would like to. Drawing on his work as a primary care physician and a behavioral scientist, Michael Stein artfully examines the often conflicting goals of patients and their doctors. In those differences, Stein recognizes that kindness should not be a patient's forbidden or unrealistic expectation. This book leaves us with new knowledge of and insights into what we might hope for, and what might go wrong, or right, in the most intimate clinical moments.

About the Author

Michael Stein, M.D., is award-winning author of six novels and four books of nonfiction, most recently Broke: Patients Talk About Money with Their Doctor. He is professor of health policy at the Boston University School of Public Health and executive editor of
For more information about Michael Stein, visit the Author Page.


"[Stein's] incisive articulation of the emotional challenges faced by doctors is rendered in prose that’s vivid, candid, and shot through with compassion—it makes for an investigation that’s tough to forget. This is a standout."—STARRED review, Publishers Weekly

"Stein’s candour, curiosity and ethical engagement admit us to a different realm from the fast-paced medical narratives we’re used to reading. He refuses to simplify. Can kindness be taught? Should it be taught? And what is kindness in the first place? Stein may be guiding us toward a Socratic impasse, but, as with Platonic dialogues, we learn a great deal along the way."—Rachel Hadas, The Times Literary Supplement

“An important addition to the canon of publications by physician writers as health care moves toward a greater understanding of the need for empathy and kindness toward our patients, but also toward ourselves as health care workers.”—Annals of Emergency Medicine

"With refreshing candor and page-turning prose, Stein dives deep into his own experience as a medical student, internist, son, and patient to look at the ways that doctor-patient interactions can influence care and patient outcomes, and what happens when doctors make mistakes. One of the most powerful, honest, and insightful books I've read by a doctor."—Belle Boggs, author of The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood

"Michael Stein is a thoughtful, compassionate, exceptional physician, and the same qualities are evident on every page of Accidental Kindness. These intimate and breathtaking patient stories remind me that the essence of medicine is to ease suffering, however and wherever and in whomever it occurs."—Dr. Gavin Francis, author of Adventures in Being Human

"In this beautifully written meditation, Stein talks about trying to be the doctor his patients needed, what he did when he fell short, and how working through the challenges of his impossible profession made him a different physician and a different man. This is so much more than a book about medicine. It’s about self-acceptance, being an adult, and facing up to what our jobs really require. We all need to discover our capacity for kindness, empathy, and self-compassion. Riveting."—Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation and The Empathy Diaries