The earlier volumes of the series were collections of stories written for magazines, but as the publishing world altered over time, the emphasis changed to full-length novels. A new reader can begin at any point, since White is careful to fill in the background, often via an explanation delivered to a new trainee, visitor, or Monitor Corps pilot. This book is part of the omnibus edition _Beginning Operations_.
"Medic" - One of the earliest entries in the series in terms of internal chronology; *the* earliest is the first story in the collection _Sector General_, describing how the hospital came to be founded, while this story relates how O'Mara, a member of the hospital's original construction crew, wound up looking after the hospital's first patient. In later years, O'Mara sealed the file on this story, but couldn't completely hush it up no matter how hard he tried. :) If you're curious about how O'Mara evolved into the gruff personality we know best, read _Mind Changer_.
"Sector General" - Not to be confused with the short story collection of the same name, which is in the omnibus edition _Alien Emergencies_. Conway makes his first appearance as the viewpoint character, a position he occupied until the conclusion of _Star Healer_. He's only been at Sector General for 2 months, and as an ardent pacifist deeply resents the Monitor Corps, when in an emergency he gets his first dose of an Educator tape, and the resulting problems land him his first real meeting with Chief Psychologist O'Mara. Then his first ship rescue assignment confronts him with a fear-maddened entity, who (having killed Carmody, the gentle Padre of the psychology department) brings Conway face-to-face with a kill-or-be-killed situation. (See _The Genocidal Healer_ for further discussion of Carmody's role in the psychology department.)
"Trouble with Emily" - Dr. Arratepec, distinguished member of a newly discovered telepathic species, has convinced its people and the Galactic Federation government to give all assistance to a classified project involving a brontosaur-like creature that its human handlers have nicknamed Emily. (Yes, it's a very bad pun.) Emily's species is facing extinction on a planet without intelligent life, although Emily itself is healthy. What is Arratepec up to, and how can Conway assist when Arratepec won't confide in him? (Incidentally, the I-have-no-time-for-women attitude disappeared rapidly when Conway met nurse, later Pathologist, Murchison.)
"Visitor at Large" - Marks the first appearance of Prilicla as Conway's brand-new assistant. The visitor in question is a giant amoeba, who (as the youngest offspring of Sector General's most troublesome patient) is being allowed a deathbed visit. The patient has nothing organically wrong with it, but is quietly dissolving into water, apparently due to some psychological problem that the doctors simply can't treat. Then the hospital rapidly acquires a second problem, as the young visitor panics at the sight of all the aliens and takes flight into the depths of the hospital.
"Outpatient" - Marked by Conway's promotion to Senior Physician and subsequent assumption of one or two permanent Educator tapes. (Diagnosticians aren't the only physicians to permanently carry tapes; they're distinguished by the *quantity* of permanent alter egos they carry.) The outpatient case is the sole survivor of an alien ambulance ship, of a previously unknown species (seen later in the series as the Ians). Conway's inexplicable course of treatment, which he refuses to justify until the end of the story, lands him in serious hot water in this one.
Incidentally, when O'Mara remarks that despite Conway's promotion, he wouldn't trust him with his appendix, the fact emerges that O'Mara's appendix was saved by the surgeon who took it out, and now (pickled) serves as a hospital chess trophy. :)
IRRELEVANT NOTE: The old Ballantine DelRey paperback edition's cover art consisted of a view of Emily during the more successful phase of Arratepec's experiments, with Conway as a small figure in the foreground.