3 Novels You Must Read (For Fun) Before Graduating Medical School

Abigail Schirmer


April 15, 2022

Though reading "for fun" is a luxury for most and is associated with lighter rotations or free time, many fourth-year medical students, including myself, have taken advantage of a little extra free time to embrace a good book. We have been inundated with extensive studies and textbook readings through our first 3 years of coursework, the increase of time in our final year makes for a perfect opportunity to read for fun. Although some people may not be interested in reading anything that has to do with medicine, I find myself fascinated by what other physicians have to say about their experiences in medicine.

There are many books that are well-known to medical students: Any novel by Atul Gawande, MD, or The House of God by Samuel Shem, MD, may ring a bell! (I highly recommend these works if you have not read them yet!) However, there are a few novels I have come across and read myself recently that I'd love to share with you.

Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey

by Bud Shaw, MD

A wonderful memoir recounting Shaw's life as a transplant surgeon, including training under and working with the father of transplant surgery, Thomas Starzl, MD. Reading this novel made me feel as if I were in the operating room listening in on conversations and situations with some of the most prominent surgeons in transplant surgery history. The stories of the early days of transplant surgery made me appreciate how far we have come in the field.

Shaw's ability to recount the many sleepless days and nights of his career provides a window into the realities of transplant surgery and how impactful it is to patients and their families. I found this novel perceptive given my interest in surgery and transplant surgery; I recommend it to anyone who is interested in surgery, transplant surgery, or the care of complex patients in an innovative and evolving field.

Counting Backwards: A Doctor's Notes on Anesthesia

by Henry Jay Przybylo, MD

A copy of this book was given to me by a classmate when I was interested in anesthesiology at the beginning of medical school. I finally had the opportunity to read it and found that the book is incredibly insightful into the responsibility, integrity, and care that is required by all physicians, especially those in a perioperative space.

In this novel, narratives that are based on true interactions and encounters with Pryzbylo's patients are detailed, offering the public an eye into the privilege that it is to care for patients and, in this case, the next generation. The narratives and stories of these patients drew me into this novel, and I honestly couldn't put it down. There is a certain element of mystery in anesthesia itself and that, in turn, creates a luring backdrop for the already heartstring-tugging narratives of Przybylo's interactions with his patients.

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

by W. Lee Warren, MD

I would highly recommend reading his novel, which interlaces faith and the understanding of, arguably, one of medicine's worst diagnoses: stage 4 glioblastoma (ie, 100% lethal brain cancer). This novel tackles difficult questions that Warren faces as a neurosurgeon and Christian. For example, how can he tell patients he will pray for them as a Christian when he statistically knows as a physician that they will not "beat" their diagnosis.

Warren delves into his personal struggles in life and in caring for his patients, providing several hundred pages of what I believe to be a workshop on empathy. As someone who is both a Christian and the family member of someone with a similar diagnosis, this novel significantly impacted the way I see and (try to) understand glioblastomas and other incurable diagnoses.

Warren broaches topics and questions many of us, as soon-to-be physicians, have about mortality, and applies faith to the "answers." (Before reading this novel, I can't say a book has ever made me cry, so be sure to have tissues handy!)

If you choose to listen to one of these novels on audible or bring the paperback on your final travels of your fourth year, I hope you gain as much from them as I did. There are many things we are not able to learn in medical school regarding patient care, and between these three physician-writers, they provide additional learning opportunities from a different perspective and lens.

The views expressed by the author are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of any company or entity.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

Join Medscape's new blog initiative! We're looking for physicians, nurses, PAs, specialists, and other healthcare professionals who are willing to share their expertise in one to two paid blog posts per month. Please email for more information.

About Abigail Schirmer
Abigail is a fourth-year medical student at Florida State University College of Medicine. She is interested in general surgery, patient safety research, medical education, and providing compassionate care to patients. Outside of medicine she enjoys running, CrossFit, swimming, general aviation, playing piano, and baking.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.