April 5, 2023

Dr. Ricardo Nuila

Harvard Book Store welcomes Dr. RICARDO NUILA—director of the Humanities Expression and Arts Lab at Baylor College of Medicine—for a discussion of his new book The People's Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine. He will be joined in conversation by independent journalist and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine FRANCESCA MARI.


Where does one go without health insurance, when turned away by hospitals, clinics, and doctors? In The People’s Hospital, physician Ricardo Nuila’s stunning debut, we follow the lives of five uninsured Houstonians as their struggle for survival leads them to a hospital where insurance comes second to genuine care.

First, we meet Stephen, the restaurant franchise manager who signed up for his company’s lowest priced plan, only to find himself facing insurmountable costs after a cancer diagnosis. Then Christian—a young college student and retail worker who can’t seem to get an accurate diagnosis, let alone treatment, for his debilitating knee pain. Geronimo, thirty-six years old, has liver failure, but his meager disability check disqualifies him for Medicaid—and puts a life-saving transplant just out of reach. Roxana, who’s lived in the community without a visa for more than two decades, suffers from complications related to her cancer treatment. And finally, there’s Ebonie, a young mother whose high-risk pregnancy endangers her life. Whether due to immigration status, income, or the vagaries of state Medicaid law, all five are denied access to care. For all five, this exclusion could prove life-threatening.

Each patient eventually lands at Ben Taub, the county hospital where Dr. Nuila has worked for over a decade. Nuila delves with empathy into the experiences of his patients, braiding their dramas into a singular narrative that contradicts the established idea that the only way to receive good healthcare is with good insurance. As readers follow the movingly rendered twists and turns in each patient’s story, it’s impossible to deny that our system is broken—and that Ben Taub’s innovative model, which emphasizes people over payments, could help light the path forward.

About Author(s)

Dr. Ricardo Nuila is a writer, teacher, and practicing doctor. He is an associate professor of medicine, medical ethics, and health policy at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Humanities Expression and Arts Lab [HEAL] program.
Francesca Mari is an independent journalist and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. She has written features and cover stories on housing, con men, and abuses of power for the Atlantic, the Cut, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and others. Mari was a 2019 MacDowell Fellow in nonfiction, a 2021 Yaddo guest, and a 2022 National Fellow at New America. Until 2018, she worked as a magazine editor at Texas Monthly and the California Sunday Magazine. She graduated from Harvard College in 2007 and teaches narrative nonfiction at Brown University.