5 books you should read to understand the life of a doctor

You may have already binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy, House MD or Scrubs or one of the many shows about doctors. But if you have just written the NEET exam or someday aspire to become a doctor, you need a more realistic picture than that.

Here are five great books you should read to understand what a career in medicine would look like. 

And if you don’t want to be a doctor? That’s okay, these are still really fascinating books with reflections on life, death, and mortality. 

So, here you go! 

  1. ‘Complications: A Surgeon’s Note on an Imperfect Science’ by Atul Gawande

Book Cover of Complications by Atul Gawande

This author’s name will definitely ring a bell or two if you have been to a bookstore in the past few years. Atul Gawande is an Indian-origin American surgeon who has also written many path-breaking books about the American health industry, and what can be done to improve it.

While ‘Checklist Manifesto’ is his most popular book, for a prospective medical student his first book ‘Complications’ is a better read.

Gawande talks in detail about his experience as a trainee surgeon, starting from the very first case he treated, how it felt when he cut human skin, and scenes in operation theatres. Through his eyes, you can get a better picture of what it means to be a surgeon.

  1. The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical students face life and death’ by Susan Pories, Gordon Harper, and Sachin H Jain

Book Cover of The Soul of a Doctor

To go a few steps back and into college, read this book which is a compilation of 44 accounts written by medical students at (you guessed it!) Harvard. The third-year students recount their experiences of dealing with their first patients, and hard lessons they learned.

The essays are thoughtful and candid, depicting how the students dealt with the consequences of quick decisions they had to make for their patients.

  1. ‘Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor’ by Perri Klass

Cover of Treatment Kind and Fair by Perri Klass

Most books on medicine seem to be written by surgeons so this book by pediatrician Perri Klass comes as a welcome change. That the book is written for her son, as he was applying to med school, makes it even better.

Klass addresses aspiring doctors, showing them what to expect from their lives. Difficult patients, very long work hours, mistakes she has made, and being welcomed into her patients’ lives- each letter addresses a different aspect of the joys and challenges of being a doctor.

You can also check out Perri’s other book ‘A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student’.

  1. Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy’ by Irvin D Yalom

Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom

Enough with the operation theatres and the surgeries. With this book, take a peek into the quiet consulting room of Irvin D Yalom, therapist and Emeritus professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

Yalom talks about ten of his patients and their struggles with things that many of us deal with at some point in our lives- loneliness, anxiety, grief, and self-contempt.

As Yalom examines his patients, he also reflects on his role in their lives as a therapist. He is honest as he describes how he had to scrutinize himself and fight against his own prejudices.

This book is an interesting read even if you are not thinking of a career in medicine and you’re someone who likes to read people.  

  1. ‘Doctors’ by Erich Segal

Cover of Doctors by Erich Segal

Phew! All that non-fiction can be overwhelming at times so here we end the list with this novel about the lives of a fictional batch of students at Harvard Medical School. It starts in medical school, where some students faint during dissections, and follows the students as they grow into tired interns and later, mature doctors.

This one is a really long (688 pages) but also really absorbing read. The story is as much about friendships and love as it is about the difficult, relentless lives of doctors.

You can snuggle with your blanket for this one.

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