Robert Jeremy Cole, the legendary doctor and hero of "The Physician," left an enduring legacy. From the 11th century on, the eldest son in each generation of the Cole family has borne the same first name and middle initial and many of these men have followed the medical profession. A few have been blessed with their ancestor's diagnostic skill and the "sixth sense" they call The Gift, the ability to know instinctively when death is impending. The tragedy of Rob J.'s life is the deafness of his son, Robert Jefferson Cole, who is called Shaman by everyone who knows him. Shaman's life is difficult. First, he must learn to speak so that he can take his place in the hearing world, and then he must fight against the prejudices of a society where physical differences matter. As Shaman struggles to achieve his identity, the Coles, along with the rest of America, are drawn into the conflict between the North and the South.