Authored by: Maheet J.
Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong by Paul A. Offit, MD
I think everyone going into a PhD or an MD should read this. It shows what happens when amoral athleticism takes control, when we think we know what we’re doing but we don’t, and frankly, when we get it wrong.
The events shown in this book have had disastrous consequences for millions of people, and I think it’s important we know the history of when science and medicine have been wrong, if we ever want to stand on the moral or ethical high ground of getting it right.
But also, it touches very important topics like informed consent, randomized controlled trials, and why the data is the most important thing when thinking about what to approve and what not to approve as the FDA.
It should also rule what you tell your patients, because otherwise you are doing them a MAJOR disservice. Offit is a world-renowned pediatrician and researcher, and has invented vaccines that have saved millions of lives. If that doesn’t convince you to check this book out, I don’t know what will!
One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases and the Mystery of Medicine by Brendan Reilly, MD
This book is a polemic, a policy proposal, and a memoir. It’s an incredibly touching account of Dr. Reilly’s journey through internal medicine and becoming a hospitalist, and why he no longer sees his own patients as a GP.
I cannot recommend this enough to any pre-med, because understanding and valuing the role of primary care physicians is important no matter what you end up doing. And I’d never heard a good account of why PCPs are so important until I’d read this. It sets out so clearly why no one can fill that essential role except an MD/DO trained in IM/FM.
It also is just a fascinating read with great patient stories, and it details so much of what is good/bad about modern hospital medicine. I would say this is my #1 favorite medical book I’ve read in the last five years, even more than any of the big ticket books written by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Oliver Sacks, or Atul Gawande.
An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD
This book is probably my #2. If you want to understand why the healthcare system in America is the way it is, this is the book for you. If you want to understand what machinations and incentives and forces are at play collectively determining what healthcare looks like, this is the book to read.
Dr. Rosenthal is very adept at being a detailed, measured, balanced reporter about the very complex and vitriolic business of medicine, and for that alone she deserves a Pulitzer. It really makes sense, since she’s the editor in chief of Kaiser Health News.
What Rosenthal does best is demonstrate that the problems of medicine are endemic to almost any hospital system in the country, but that there are specific and actionable things we can do as future doctors to make the system better. There are specific and easily relatable things we can do to advocate for systemic change.
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD
This book is the best tome and history of genetics that I personally have ever encountered. It describes the biology and history of genetics better than any textbook I’ve had throughout my PhD.
It also is just really well written and a fascinating read. Each chapter on its own is an excellent piece of nonfiction, let alone when they’re bound together like this. If you want to understand where medicine is going in the next 20 years in terms of genetic medicine, this is a great place to start.
It also describes incredibly well the sorts of problems and conundrums this science creates. How do we know if something is truly “genetic” or “innate?” How can we possibly begin to think that something as complex as gender or sexual orientation can exist without any genetic (or societal) influence?
He also deftly dispels many myths about intelligence and genetic racism, and describes in incredible detail the history of eugenics and its intertwined relationship with genetics. It is probably one of my favorite /science/ books of all time, even if it isn’t strictly about medicine. It still has a huge amount of impact on how medicine is practiced.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD
What The Gene is for genetics, Emperor of All Maladies is for cancer. It’s just incredible.
If you want to understand better a disease that will play perhaps the largest role in medical practice over the next four-five decades, this is the book for you. I’m sorry to say that cancer probably isn’t going anywhere fast, even if we can and have figured out how to manage it better. This book will teach you how we did it so poorly in the past, and how scientists and clinicians are working best to figure it out for the future.
Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders, MD
This book was written by a Yale doc who also writes the popular “Diagnosis” column for the NYT. Her related stories in that column and elsewhere are the basis for maladies seen on House, and it shows.
I think Dr. Sanders’ biggest strength in this book is describing the process of diagnostic medicine, figuring out complex and inexplicable cases while patients are desperate for help.
She also describes the culture of the clinic and the need for personal Hx and Px for every patient. Many of the newest and coolest techniques are useful and exceptional for most patients, but they do miss things. And teaching to test (as in send it off for labs instead of doing a proper history/exam) is responsible for a lot of medical error in this country. If you want to know what I mean, read this. It’s quick and juicy.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD
This book basically describes what it’s like to be a high-achieving surgery-focused gunner who then realizes how much the surgical lifestyle isn’t for you. Then it details Melinek’s journey through Pathology residency and finally a forensic pathology fellowship.
A few months into Dr. Melinek’s fellowship at the NYC Medical Examiner, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The last third of the book is dedicated to detailing this horrendous event, and the aftermath of the event from the eyes of a forensic pathologist tasked with sifting through the rubble looking for human remains.
It somehow manages to remain lighthearted through all of this, and so I recommend it highly. This sort of death and destruction is present in all aspects of medicine. It’s also just really well-written and a quick read.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh, MD
If you want to know what modern medicine has done to the actual practice and pursuance of helping people, Dr. Marsh is here to describe it in gritty detail.
I loved this book, but I think I’m partial to old haggard dudes telling stories about how things used to be. This is a book you should read if you want to have some foreknowledge into what EMRs and the bureaucracies of medical business have done to “the world’s noblest profession.”
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
If you, like me, have an interest in going into Peds, ID, or any combination thereof, this is great.
If you, like me, are curious as to why thousands of people decline vaccination for their children only to put them at harm for disastrous CURABLE diseases, this is the absolute BEST book to read.
It goes into the psychology, the history, and the sociology of why our society has spawned so many anti-vaxxers and why these ideas are so pervasive and infectious on their own, rivaling the diseases they cause.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, MD, MPH
This book is to palliative care what The Gene and Emperor of All Maladies are to genetics and oncology. It describes the state of the art, what we can do to change this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, and what medicine should actually mean for end-of-life patients.
It’s got an excellent moral compass, describes actionable ideas about how best to treat people, and describes the way medicine has evolved to become what it is to patients and families alike. It is so hard to talk about these things, but it is also so desperately necessary.
It’s often too late by the time we are hit with these dilemmas of end-of-life care, so it’s never too early to read this, draft an advanced directive, and talk to your family about what they want. All of Gawande’s books are incredible, but this one is definitely my favorite.
Other books to check out:
- The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
- When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank Vertosick, MD
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, MD
- Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
- Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan H. Lents, PhD
- Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich