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Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Top 100 Reviewer

Grady Harp


5.0 out of 5 stars

A splendid and timely novel

April 20, 2019

Once again Rick Novak serves up a virulent novel that addresses an ongoing change in medicine that worries most of us – the growing dependence on robotics in surgery and the dehumanization of medicine: doctor patient interaction is altered by EMR and IT reporting of visits to insurance companies and the warmth of communication suffers. Rick takes this information to create a story about the extremes of AI in the form of a glowing globe that is Dr Vita and the struggle computer scientist/anesthesiologist Dr Lucas assumes as he tries to save medicine from the extremes of the ‘new age’ called FutureCare. As expected, Rick’s recreation of the tension in the OR and in interaction of the physicians is on target: his own experiences enhance the veracity of the story’s atmosphere.

Rick Novak writes so extremely well that likely has answered the plea of his readers to continue this `hobby’. He is becoming one of the next great American physician authors – think William Carlos Williams, Theodore Isaac Rubin, Oliver Wolf Sacks, Richard Selzer, and also the Brits Oliver Wendell Holmes et al. Medicine and writing can and do mix well in hands as gifted as Rick Novak. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, April 19

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On June 5, 2019 the Almanac, the home newspaper for the California communities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside featured a cover story on Rick Novak and his new novel Doctor Vita.

by Angela Swartz / Almanac 

Dr. Rick Novak poses for a portrait at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, May 23. Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac

Between his time in the operating room, teaching, and raising his three sons, Atherton resident Dr. Rick Novak has found time to write two novels. 

Novak, 65, an anesthesiologist at the Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, recently published his latest, “Doctor Vita,” a story about an artificial intelligence (AI) physician module that goes awry.

It’s a science fiction novel that explores how technological breakthroughs like artificial intelligence and robots will affect medical care — and already have.

This is the link to the Almanac article.


Last week Lawton Burns PhD and Mark Pauly PhD of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania published a landmark economic article entitled, “Detecting BS in Health Care.” Yes, you did not read that wrong—the academic paper used the abbreviation “BS” to describe the bull—- in the healthcare industry.

BS in Health Care


As a practicing physician, I find it to be a fascinating paper, and I recommend you click on the link and read it. The authors begin with a discussion of the art and value of BS detection. They mention that Ernest Hemingway was once asked, “Is there one quality needed to be a good writer, above all others?”

Hemingway replied, “Yes, a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector.”

The authors write, “While flat-out dishonesty for short term financial gains is an obvious answer, a more common explanation is the need to say something positive when there is nothing positive to say. . . . The incentives to generate BS are not likely to diminish—if anything, rising spending and stagnant health outcomes strengthen them—so it is all the more important to have an accurate and fast way to detect and deter BS in health care.”

The authors list their Top 10 Forms of BS in Health Care. The first four forms of BS weave a common theme:

  1. Top-down solutions: High-level executives and top management in the health care industry are supposed to engineer alternative payment models, but nothing has worked to date.
  2. One-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf: Leadership of industry and government assume one solution will work for multiple organizations, without customization.
  3. Silver-bullet prescriptions: A “silver bullet” is described as something that will cure all ills, and must be implemented because it been “decided that it is good for you,” Electronic health records (EHRs) are a prime example of a silver-bullet prescription. The federal government pushed the use of EHRs, claiming the systems would reduce costs and improve quality—but Burns and Pauly argue EHRs “eventually raised costs and only mildly touched a few quality dimensions.”
  4. Follow the guru: We must follow a visionary guru with a mystical revelation about what needs to be done. The authors describe how, in health care, Harvard professor Michael Porter and former CMS (Center of Medicare and Medicaid) administrator Don Berwick launched theories based on population health, and per-capita cost, to little success.

The current U.S. healthcare market is dominated by large corporations, led by businessmen who outline a yellow brick road for physicians to lead patients along. There is minimal effective policy-making from physicians. Healthcare stocks consistently grow in value, with little relationship to an improvement in clinical care, value, or cost. The government is involved as well, as in their mandate for Electronic Health Records (EHRs), a technology change that cost a lot of money, while forging a barrier between clinicians and the patients we are trying to interview, examine, and care for.

Where will the current trends take us? Will businessmen and/or the government prescribe health care? Will more and more computers and machines dominate health care?

Self-driving cars, Siri, Alexa, automated checkouts at Safeway, and IBM’s Watson are technologic realities. Will we someday see a self-driving physician with the voice of Siri and the brains of Watson?

Call that device “Doctor Vita.”

The saga of Doctor Vita, by Rick Novak, arrives in 2019 from All Things That Matter Press.


Mr. Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature


Because my expertise includes not only medicine but also Bob Dylan’s life and art, I have to stand on a soap box and crow about Bob winning the Nobel Prize in Literature this very day.

He’s the first musician to win the award. The literature prize is given for a lifetime of writing rather than for a single work.

The Swedish Academy credited Mr. Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Sara Danius, a literary scholar and the permanent secretary of the 18-member Nobel academy, which awards the prize, called Mr. Dylan “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition” and compared him to Homer and Sappho, whose work was delivered orally.

Americans should be proud, songwriters should be inspired, and residents of Hibbing, Minnesota, my hometown and Bob Dylan’s, should be awed beyond belief. Their majestic high school in this small iron ore village produced a literary legend.


Hibbing High School Auditorium, where Bob (Dylan) Zimmerman performed while in high school


Bob (Dylan) Zimmerman’s boyhood home in Hibbing, Minnesota


Introducing …,  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a legal mystery. Publication date September 9, 2014 by Pegasus Books.

On October 2, 2014 THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN became the world’s  #1 bestselling anesthesia Kindle book on


In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.

Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.

Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.

To reach the Amazon webpage to purchase The Doctor and Mr. Dylan, click on the book image below:



Hibbing High School

Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone  leaves the wife he hates and the Stanford job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.


Before writing The Doctor and Mr. Dylan, Rick Novak worked as a clinical anesthesiologist, medical director, and expert witness in Northern California.

Rick was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, to a welding foreman and a homemaker. His mother read two books per week, and Rick developed the same habit, frequently bicycling the four blocks from their home to the public library to pick out new material. He graduated from Hibbing High School in 1972, and was accepted to Harvard College. For his Harvard application essay Rick penned a short story about God revealing Himself to two drunks in a Minnesota tavern.

Hibbing High School Auditorium, Hibbing, Minnesota

Rick declined Harvard and enrolled instead at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he received a degree in Chemistry in 1976. From 1973-1977 Rick worked five summers with United States Steel in the iron ore mines near Hibbing. He played on the  United States Junior Men’s Curling championship teams in 1974 and 1975.  Rick then studied medicine at the University of Chicago School, graduated with an MD in 1980, and moved to California the following day to become an intern at Stanford Hospital.

Stanford University Hospital, Stanford, California

He spent the next thirty-plus years at Stanford, where he served as an intern, a resident in internal medicine, an emergency room faculty member, an anesthesia resident, and finally as an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesia and Deputy Chief of the Anesthesia Department at Stanford.

Rick’s writing career blossomed in the role of Deputy Chief, where he authored a monthly column in the department newsletter. The theme of each essay centered on the differences between the private practice of anesthesia and the university-based teaching practice of anesthesia. He began posting these essays on The Anesthesia Consultant website ( in 2010. Readership grew, and now hundreds of thousands of people visit the website each year.

Beginning in 2001, Dr. Novak developed an interest in anesthesia medical-legal consultation, a role that drew him into the courtroom as an expert witness.

Rick’s lifelong dream of creating entertaining fiction led him to imagine a story: the plot dealt with an anesthesia complication, a crumbling marriage, a son’s quest for elite college admission, and a courtroom drama, all set in his and Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota. Three years of writing and rewriting yielded the manuscript of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. In 2014, literary agent Anne Devlin believed the story was a winner, and sold the book to Pegasus Publishing.

Rick continues his work in clinical anesthesia at Stanford Hospital and at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California. He lives with his three sons, Zachary, Theo, and Oliver, and passes on his love of academics and reading to them.

Rick’s second novel, Doctor Vita, is being published in 2019.