Monday, February 22, 2016

The Ultimate Pre-Med Reading List

As many of you know, I want to be hope to be will be a doctor someday. But as you probably also know, I am not actively pursing my medical degree. Life happens. However, just because I am not formally studying medicine does not mean I am not daily studying medicine and what makes a good doctor. I feel safe and in control when I am informed so reading and research are very important to me. Knowing what to expect makes big scary things (like med school) seem manageable. Plus, I really, really love learning about medicine, medical ethics and generally getting a peek into the minds and lives of doctor authors.

This is a list in progress. It will be updated as I remember titles and find new reads. I have read every book on this list, but did not necessarily love them all. If you have any books to suggests, please share. I apologize in advance for the length of this post! (Click here for a copy of this list, sans descriptions.)

Better by Atul Gawande
This was the very first "doctor book" I read and, I've gotta say, it's still my favorite. It opened my eyes to so many aspects of medical ethics I never considered before and challenged (and changed!) my thinking in so many way. We're talking about doctor's involvement in reimbursement, malpractice, lethal injection...hard topics but topics that desperately need to be openly discussed.

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson
I am a huge fan of Dr. Carson's work (Hemispherectomy? HELLO. Can we say flippin' awesome!). Reading his life story gave so much insight into his character and practice.

One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of Medicine by Brendan Reilley
This book has some awesome thought on the need for primary physicians and the important (and central!) role they (should) play in patient care.

The Soul of Medicine by Sherwin Nuland
These stories...some made me laugh, some made my cry, some made me angry with the world in general. It's a raw look into a side of medicine rarely brought to the light.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
This book isn't necessarily about medicine. Dr. Gawande has done some impressive work with WHO and this books discusses the practical use of a seemingly simple tool -the checklist- to prevent error in all fields. If you are interested in error prevention in medicine this book is very insightful.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
I was so excited when I saw Atul Gawande had a new book out (I'm a fan...can you tell?) but it took me months to get around to reading it. Being Mortal discusses our modern approach to aging and death and contrasts it with practices of the ancient world and other cultures. If you have a heart for geriatrics or are trying to make decisions about aging parents or grandparents I can't recommend this book enough. Once again, Dr. Gawande turned my thinking upside down.  There is a better way.

Complications by Atul Gawande
If it's by Atul Gawande I'm going to recommend it whole heartedly. This book focuses more on stories from his surgical residency exposing honest and sometimes shocking aspects of happenings in the operating room.

The Pact by The Three Doctors
I love this story! Three young boys, living in a community of drugs, gangs and violence, make a pact that one day they will go to medical school and become doctors. This story follows their lives through many hardships and I love seeing how through each obstacle they encouraged each other to keep that pact. (Spoiler: they do.)

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
Honestly, it's been so long since I read this I don't remember much about it...sorry! I do remember the writing style being difficult but the thoughts were worth the effort...

The Uncertain Art by Sherwin B Nuland
“Life is short, and the Art long; the occasion fleeting; experience fallacious; and judgment difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and the externals, cooperate.” –Hippocrates
One of my very favorite Hippocrates quotes that sums up this book so well as it explores the questionable side of medicine and why you can't be too quick to rule out anything.

Hot Lights Cold, Steel by Michael Collins
Michael Collins is awesome! He reminds me so much of my father. He is just honest, down to earth and understands so well the heart of medicine.

Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs by Michael Collins
See above. While Hot Lights, Cold Steel covers Dr. Collins' orthopedic residency at Mayo, Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs discusses his journey to and through medical school.

Doctored by Sandeep Jauhur
Again, I don't remember much about this book except it bordered on way too cynical but pulled it back in the last few chapter...

Intern by Sandeep Jauhur
See above.

Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
If you like House, you will like this book. Dr. Sanders was a medical advisor for House and, much like the episodes, each chapter begins with a patient presentation and ends with a diagnosis, explaining the doctor's reasoning along the way. Read this on vacation at the beach one year and this fits perfectly my definition of beach reading. :)

Doctors Sherwin B Nuland
Essentially, each chapter highlights a different doctor and their contribution to medicine. This book is big and tends to be dry at parts. But, featuring Hippocrates, Galen, Laennec, Semmelweis, Vasalius,'s kinda like a meeting of the minds so definitely worth the read.

What Patients Taught Me by Audrey Young
Pretty fascinating to hear about rural medicine in the Pacific Northwest. And when I say rural, I mean rural. Living in the doctor saturated northeast it's hard to comprehend a world where you need to travel for days to receive medical care.

Everything I Learned in Medical School: Besides All the Book Stuff by Sujay Kansagra
Short read, not necessarily informative as much as humorous. The section on how to respond to a superior's jokes was hysterical.

Confessions of a Surgeon Paul A. Ruggieri
I don't remember anything special about this book...

The Cost of Cutting by Pail A. Ruggieri
A rather cynical look at reimbursement, insurance and surgery. Cynical but informative.

On Call: A Doctor’s Day and Nights in Residency by Emily Transue
This book itself wasn't the best but I love Dr. Transue's approach to medicine, her work/life balance and the way she interacts with her patients.

Patient by Patient by Emily Transue
See above. This book focuses more on her practice in primary care.

100,000 Hearts by Denton Cooley 
If I get a little giddy just tell me to shut up, okay? I. Love. The. Human. Heart. 100,000 Hearts is an autobiography by Dr. Cooley. If you don't know who he is you are really missing out. This guy is awesome. As a student of Dr. Blalock (!!) he pioneered cardiac surgery and invented many of the devises still in use today (arterial graph...heart/lung bypass...defibrillator, anyone?). Additionally, he invented and performed the first artificial heart transplant in the U.S. Rockstar material.

What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri
I so appreciate Dr. Ofri's honesty in addressing many of the emotions doctors face and how they affect their well being. To foreknow is to be forewarned.

Between Expectations by Meghan MacLean Weir
These stories from a pediatric residency are heartbreaking as they address questions regarding the healing, treating and letting go of young life.

The House of God by Shem Samuel
I know this is supposed to be an iconic book but I did not care for it at all. I found it sexist, racist, cynical and generally offensive. Perhaps I would feel differently on the other side of my medical training but for now, not my cup of tea.

In Stitches by Anthony Youn 
Okay, so maybe I profiled a little when I found out Dr. Youn is plastic surgeon and TV doc. I expected shallow, false...I was wrong. As he chronicles his journey through medical school Dr. Youn is very honest and real about just how human he is. Refreshing. I loved reading about his family dynamics and how his father, who some might consider stern to a fault, was one of his greatest influences.

Med School Confidential by Robert H Miller
This is just a very practical, question and answer, what to expect book. With many med student/resident/doctor contributors it covers some basic topics from applying to med school, to clerkship, to residency interviews and specialties. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the big, scary idea of becoming a doctor this is a wonderful resource.

On Becoming a Doctor by Tania Heller
Again, just a very practical book. Each chapter is written by a doctor from a different specialty and explains why they chose their specialty and the pros and cons of working in that field. Dr. Heller practices at Georgetown so a lot of the doctors are from my area and one contributor is a friend of friends so that was kinda cool...

Miracles and Mayhem in the ER by Brent Rock Russell
Nothing earth shattering but some crazy ER stories for those of you interested in emergency medicine.

The Medical Book by Clifford A. Pickover
My mom tells of passing time at her father's desk flipping through the PDR and admiring the pretty, bright pictures of all the pills. (Guys, I seriously want a PDR.) Apparently I'm my mother's daughter...I love the big, shiny pictures in this book of (among other things) anatomy, microorganisms and molecular structures. Basically, this book is a trip through history with medical discoveries as your mode of transportation. Definitely not an in depth exploration of each subject but enough to wet your appetite. And all the pretty pictures!

The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death
A collection of stories by Harvard medical student describing the effects patients interactions had on them. The socioeconomic issues associated with medical care was a central topic which, of course, I loved. :)

Learning to Play God by Robert Marion 
I have been wanting to get my hands on a copy of Robert Marion's Intern Blues for a while. But Learning to Play God is the only book of his my library has so that was that. Dr. Marion did his medical school clerkship at hospitals in the Bronx so his stories are a combination of the interesting, insane and unbelievable. He ended up becoming a pediatric geneticist which is a unique specialty and, as Addison's sister, I have learned first hand how rare and important a caring geneticist is! Seeing the cold, clinical view his colleagues had of children with genetic disabilities had a strong influence on his practice and I very much appreciate his attitude toward his patients...if only ever geneticist would think/act the same!

Baghdad ER: Fifteen Minutes by Todd Baker
Okay so this book is one I really have a hard time with. Medically, the stories of this front line ER are pretty fascinating. But the writing style is challenging to read and there are an abundance of typos which really send my dyslexic brain into a tailspin trying to figure out if I read something wrong (I know, I know...who am I to comment on typos?). So there is a lot of re-reading paragraphs a million times. But it is worth pushing through for the stories. I clearly remember 9/11 and the following events in Afghanistan and Iraq. But at the time I was too young to form an opinion or fully grasp what was happening "over there". It is so interesting to look back on these events as a fully comprehending adult. Did you know it was common for extremists to use people who happen to have Down Syndrome as suicide bombers? Absolutely horrific and heart wrenching. The brutality is just unimaginable.

Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine by Roy Porter
So disappointed in this book. I was expecting satire. It was boring and really didn't say anything I didn't already know. The images were interesting so maybe worth a thumb through. If you really want  a good history of medicine I would recommend reading instead Doctors by Sherwin B. Nuland.

If you read all the above, you are a saint. :) Have you read any of these books? Any suggestions for further reading?


last update: 4/1/16


  1. Saving this-my husband is starting his residency this summer and loves books like these!

  2. I have only one suggestion. A book called Body of Work: Meditations of Human Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross. This book was fantastic. It's about a first year med student and her experience in the Human Anatomy lab and the dissection process. An eye opener must read!

    1. Thanks so much for the recommendation! I will definitely check it out!

  3. I would recommend The Intern Blues: The Timeless Classic About the Making of a Doctor by Robert Marion. It is about three interns and their overall internship in the major hospitals of New York. The interns share their lessons of treating sick children, come face to face with things like child abuse and even share their personal lives. This book was recommended to me by my anatomy professor knowing that I want to someday become a Pediatric Hospitalist and wanting me to see some of the issues that I could come up against. I would strongly recommend it for any Pre-Med Students.

  4. Medical School Application Timeline - Downloadable PDF Guide

  5. Loved the different varieties of books recommended here! One quick addition though; I've found books written by Robin Cook to be both informative in the medical aspect, and enjoyable as a novel in itself. Maybe you should give some of his works a go! Shock and Godplayer are some of my favs!