Doctor Tom Dooley, My Story Analysis
In writing his personal autobiography, Dooley presents a subjective account of real-life experiences. He also gives an accurate description of war assignments and private medical practice. While the book appeals to adult audiences, it is valuable for teenage readers because of Dooley’s portrayal of his life of sacrifice and service.
Dooley practiced medicine with devotion and commitment. He was inspired by the great Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a world-famous organist who left a concert career to study medicine. Schweitzer founded a jungle hospital in Africa and treated the sickly and poor. According to Schweitzer, doctors “must go forth amongst the ‘have-nots’ in far-off lands and do what has to be done.” Because, like Schweitzer, Dooley wanted to help others, he traveled to remote areas in Southeast Asia and treated the poor and diseased.
Dooley believed in hard work and simplicity. He tirelessly aided people in their struggle against misery and often worked fifteen or sixteen hours a day, his best reward being a decent meal or hot shower. Fancy clothes and appearance were not important to Dooley: His standard working clothes were khaki trousers, shorts, T-shirts, and uniforms with the sleeves cut off. Dooley was more concerned with human beings than he was with possessions or image.
Dooley also enjoyed the world of literature. He authored several books and read reflective poetry. One of his favorite poems was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost. Dooley memorized the last poetic stanza and lived his own life accordingly: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/ But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep,/ And miles to go before I sleep.” The keeping of promises helped to lead Dooley back to Southeast Asia.
Dooley participated in the Catholic church, and he was deeply religious. He recited the “Our Father” prayer each day and, along with his medical assistants, often prayed the family rosary out loud. He believed that “God has put us on this earth not merely to exist from day to day, but to use our time in the service of others.” When Dooley was fighting cancer, Francis Cardinal Spellman visited him in the hospital. The cardinal praised Dooley for his faith, courage, and love of God.
While his own health failed, Dooley continued to maintain his programs through the Medical International Cooperation (MEDICO). He initiated seventeen MEDICO organizations in twelve countries to provide medical care. To help fund his work, Dooley undertook many lectures, speeches, and radio engagements, and he donated most of his earnings to his MEDICO mission. Because of his voluntary duties, Dooley received many honorary degrees and awards.
Dooley continues to be recognized after his death, as young readers learn that Dooley was given a posthumous gold medal. The award, presented to Dooley’s mother by President John F. Kennedy, was in acknowledgment of Dooley’s gallant and unselfish public service. Mrs. Dooley also maintained his work by establishing the Thomas A. Dooley Foundation. Its purpose is to raise health standards in under-developed countries and to establish a closer understanding between the peoples of the world.
Doctor Tom Dooley, My Story portrays a young man’s life, one that is both joyous and sad. In thirty-four years, Dooley achieved more than most people do in eighty-five years. Consequently, his autobiography can affect, influence, and motivate young readers, and it remains a classic work in juvenile and young adult biography.