Here’s some recommended reading for your scheduled MCAT study breaks.
The House of God (Samuel Shem)
For any wannabe MD, this is a classic. It is also easily one of the weirdest novels I have ever read. As the only work of fiction on this list, its painfully real unreality often borders on the bizarre. But don’t be fooled, this book reveals a profound truth. I’m just not completely sure what it is yet…
Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death, and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon’s First Years (Michael J. Collins)
A surprisingly funny and candid account of what it’s like to be an orthopedic surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic. Collins is introspective, honest, and often sleep-deprived, but clearly passionate about medicine which makes for an enjoyable read. However, if you want to maintain a romanticized view of what it’s like to do a surgical residency it might be wise to skip this one.
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (Atul Gawande)
Humans are fallible. We make mistakes. We learn. We get better. Perfection is something often strived for but rarely attained. This is true of life. This is also true of medicine. Doctors are not superior beings. Even when they fight against their inherent humanity, acting like a machine is far from actually being one. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in Gawade’s book of personal essays and compelling anecdotes. Set in the early years of his surgical training it serves as a much needed reminder of the uncertainties and unsolved questions that still plague modern medicine.
How Doctors Think (Jerome Groopman)
An excellent look at the psychology that drives the diagnosis doctors arrive at, the treatments they prescribe and even the general approaches they tend to favour when it comes to patient care. While Gawade addresses the concept of doctor fallibility, Groopman takes it to the next level, exploring what kind of mistakes doctors make, why they make them, and perhaps most importantly how they can be prevented. Do good physicians know more or do they just think better? A must-read for aspiring doctors and occasional patients alike.
White Coat: Becoming a Doctor at Harvard Medical School (Ellen Lerner Rothman)
The one who wears the white coat wields the power. She has the power to cure and the power to mend but also the power to do great harm and cause horrible suffering. She should never let it rest easy on her shoulders. This reality is not lost on Ellen Lerner Rothman as she recounts her journey from pre-med life to Harvard graduate. At every turn, she is aware of the responsibility conferred on her and her peers from the very first day they set foot on campus. A sobering look at the life of a medical student, this book serves as a reminder to all medical school hopefuls. The path may not be easy but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted (Gerald Imber)
Equal parts biography and history of medicine, much of this book recounts the creation of Johns Hopkins and the lives of the medical giants who helped propel it to prominence. One such man, Dr. William Stewart Halsted, carries the story. Surgical pioneer, clinician scientist, and part-time cocaine addict, he almost single-handedly lifted surgery out the dark ages. This book is truly an eye-opening look at the medical advancements we too easily take for granted.
The Gene: An intimate history (Siddhartha Mukherjee)
While not strictly about the practice of medicine this book is, at its core, the future of medical science. While the length can be daunting at first, Mukherjee weaves a seamless narrative that is difficult to put down. In tracing the history of the gene from its ideological inception as an indivisible unit of heredity to its physical manifestation as a protein coding segment of DNA (and beyond) he has created a work of such magnitude, I cannot even begin to do it justice in the minimal space I’ve allotted myself here. It is a story of logic and experimentation, failure and success, heartbreak and triumph, but most importantly it is a chronicle of humanity, and just how far we will go to understand ourselves.