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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Although "additional books to read" may sound more like a threat than friendly advice to medical students already drowning in knowledge, this isn't your typical "core curriculum." Medscape's med student advisory board has suggested various books that aren't often included as part of formal training but should be read by all prospective doctors. From nonfiction to short-story collections, some of the recommendations will surprise you, but all of them will hopefully help fully round out an already robust educational experience.

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

The Doctor Stories

William Carlos Williams

Although this collection of poems, stories, and autobiographical moments is a bit older, the lessons it contains remain resonant. As advisory board member Daniel J. Egan, MD, puts it, "Many of the same themes are still encountered in medicine today." Mary Cooke, MD, suggested that the book provides the kind of lessons that may not be easily taught in classrooms. "His clear-eyed descriptions of his patients, their homes, and families are unforgettable and remind us that we won't like all our patients, but must do our best for them nonetheless."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

The Devil Wears Scrubs

Freida McFadden

A good sense of humor isn't just important for surviving medical school. This is a laugh-laden account of an intern's first month of training, during which she encounters "the senior resident from hell." As advisory board member Sara Cohen, MD, puts it, "As painful as it all sounds, it's quite an accurate and entertaining account of many interns' experiences."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

Ironweed

William Kennedy

The third book in the author's "Albany trilogy," this is a portrait of a man coping with alcoholism and having hit "rock bottom." Cooke has actually been assigning this text for years. "I have occasionally had my inpatient teams at San Francisco General read this book as, I hope, an antidote to our tendency to objectify our patients who are addicted and live on the streets."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, this memoir follows a neurosurgeon attempting to answer the unanswerable question, "What makes life worth living?" as he gets a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. As Egan explains in his recommendation, "Although incredibly sad, this is a really powerful story about dealing with bad outcomes, delivering bad news, and the empathy/compassion required for medicine."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

The House of God

Samuel Shem

Easily the most recommended book among our advisory board, this classic 1978 novel written by psychiatrist Stephen Bergman under a pseudonym describes the struggles of a group of interns during the first year of residency training. Board member Kendra L. Campbell, MD, explains, "It is a must-read for all physicians in training. It touches on the dehumanization caused by residency training and provokes important ethical questions." Cohen agrees, adding, "Everyone in med school quotes it so much that you'd be lost if you haven't read it!" If you feel up to the challenge, here's a quiz on those quotes.

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

Young Men and Fire

Norman MacLean

Cooke describes this as a "gorgeous meditation on mortality." Written by a creative writing teacher from the University of Chicago, the book follows the tale of fire-jumpers. Specifically, it focuses on the Mann Gulch Fire (1949) and the death of 12 fire-jumpers, which the author recounts in the context of his wife's esophageal cancer diagnosis.

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

Origin

Dan Brown

This mystery thriller is the fifth installment in Dan Brown's popular "Robert Langdon" series that engages in "fundamental questions of the human existence." Board member Shiv Gaglani, MBA, says, "Origins is an engaging and thought-provoking read that touches upon the themes of religion versus science, artificial intelligence, evolution, and humanity's past and future. It can be a welcome escape from the daily stresses of school/practice as well as interesting conversation starter!"

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

This Won't Hurt a Bit (and Other White Lies)

Michelle Au

This memoir by a popular blogger is described as "[a] no-holds-barred account of what a modern medical education feels like." Thankfully, much of it falls on the humorous side. As Cohen explains, "Although it's very funny, it also has a lot of sad moments, and it strikes me as a very realistic depiction of medical training."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

Complications

Atul Gawande

This collection of true cases was a National Book Award finalist and explores "the limits of medicine." Often thrilling, Gawande's work has been hailed for its genuine nature and tackles the "reality" of medicine for which students are frantically preparing. As Egan puts it, the book is a helpful reminder that "things don't always go according to plan when taking care of patients."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

A Case of Need

Michael Crichton

Another recommendation that spans the gap between escapism and medical information, this book focuses on a surgeon's daughter who dies during an abortion. Cohen suggests Crichton's thriller for various reasons. "The book not only provides an interesting history of abortion, but there's a lot of explanation of the science behind medical practice. It's also quite a good mystery!"

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

William Osler: A Life in Medicine

Michael Bliss

Cooke describes this as "[a] marvelous biography of the founder of American internal medicine, whose influence is still felt throughout the specialty internationally." Osler is credited with revolutionizing the art of practicing medicine at the bedside of his patients, and this biography digs deeper into his motivations and contributions. Through this legendary figure, the evolution of medical training and various other areas of practice are meticulously explored.

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

The Year They Tried to Kill Me

Salvatore Iaquinta

This retelling of a surgeon's first year of residency is brutal in its honesty. So much so, Cohen suggests "Anyone considering a surgical residency should check out this book—it may make them change their mind." Tackling the kind of naivety that can prove problematic, the book has humor, romance, and sadness in equal parts. Talk about a well-rounded education...

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

The Intern Blues

Robert Marion

Three interns were asked to keep a careful diary over the course of a year. Their stories help provide insight into the realities of residency. In his recommendation, Egan explains that this is "a helpful proactive reading addressing some of the issues related to being an intern, particularly mental health and well-being. It's nice to know that other people experience similar feelings."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

Left Neglected

Lisa Genova

This novel by a neuroscientist explores the after-effects of traumatic brain injury in a young mother. As Cohen states, "I love that this book gives such an accurate depiction of a brain injury, and the subsequent recovery, including all the surrounding psychosocial issues. This book is a must-read for anyone who is considering a career in a neurologic field."

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15 Unassigned Books That Every Student Should Read

Ryan Syrek, MA | September 26, 2018 | Contributor Information

My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor

As all books in this collection of recommendations is intended to do, this memoir hopefully provides valuable perspective. The work explores what happens to a 37-year-old brain scientist who suffers a massive stroke, leading to an inability to walk, talk, read, or write. As Cohen explains, "What I valued most about this book was Taylor's recall of the way she was treated when she was a patient and at her most confused. I frequently keep her advice in mind when I'm seeing patients.

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Books That Doctors Would Like to Give (or Receive!)

Medscape's advisors and contributors tell us which books they are planning to give to a colleague or family member this holiday season.Medscape Features Slideshows, November 2017
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