Great Reads Inspire Great Lives
As many of you know, my desire to be involved in medicine dates to when I was quite young, and was highly influenced by my family doc as well as my human physiology teacher in high school.
I was also influenced by a number of books I read along the way that told what it was like to be a doctor, as well as the hardships of medical training and internship.
These books inspired me and have made me a better practitioner. I was enthralled by the real-life stories of drama portrayed on their pages as doctors and patients faced disease, disability, and other challenges. At times, I could imagine myself as one the many heroic physicians who were working to make the world a better place. Yet, at the same time, I found it sobering to imagine the weight that these doctors carried in helping patients through some of the most difficult times in their lives. I even cried when they failed, and patients died.
Sharing My Favorite Medical Reads
I have always felt it was important for my medical students to understand both the joys, as well as challenges and heartaches, involved in medical education, so that they could be better prepared for what lies ahead.
As such, I wanted to share with you some of the books that most influenced me, inspired me, and yet at the same time made me grasp the serious nature of the work of physicians even before I ever set foot in a hospital. I consider these to be some of the classics of medical education, and I highly recommend that you pick one (or more) of them up. I believe they will have the same effect on you.
Before we talk about the books I have chosen, make sure to read my posting on medicine goes to the movies, which discusses some great Hollywood blockbusters that can also teach you a few lessons about medicine
This was the first book I ever picked up about what it was like to become a physician. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and knew that I wanted healthcare for a career. It has, more than any other book, had the most influence on how I view the process of becoming a physician. If you read only one book on this list, make it this one!
“Do you know what your doctor really thinks or how your doctor really feels about medicine and about you? The seeds lie in the critical first few years of a medical education, and Dr. Robert Marion, director of the Center for Congenital Disorders at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, draws from his own experiences as student, intern, and resident to provide some surprising — and sobering — answers. In the course of twenty gripping, illuminating, and extraordinarily candid stories, Dr. Marion reveals the dehumanizing, slightly insane, and often brutal process of medical training. You will experience not only the intense pressure and chronic exhaustion of the doctor-to-be, but also the price the patient must often pay. While each story stands alone as an adventure in medicine, taken together they are a call to change. With profound eloquence and compassion, Dr. Marion explores ways in which to assure that humanity and idealism survive the grueling and destructive path to technical competency.”
Also by Dr Robert Marion, author of Learning to Play God, this was the next book I read about becoming a physician. I was entranced by Dr Marion’s experiences in his first book, and was thrilled to see this as a sequel in which Dr Marion was no longer an intern, but rather an attending physician supervising three young doctors during their training. This book was particularly insightful for how it dealt with the issue of female residents, who now make up approximately 50% of all resident in primary care programs, and the unique challenges they face.
“While supervising a small group of interns at a major New York medical center, Dr. Robert Marion asked three of them to keep a careful diary over the course of a year. Andy, Mark, and Amy vividly describe their real-life lessons in treating very sick children; confronting child abuse and the awful human impact of the AIDS epidemic; skirting the indifference of the hospital bureaucracy; and overcoming their own fears, insecurities, and constant fatigue. Their stories are harrowing and often funny; their personal triumph is unforgettable.”
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Improper Science
For those who want to know what a surgical residency is like, I would highly recommend this book. While I am not a surgeon myself, I found this to be an enthralling look at the grueling process that produces surgeons. Surgery is perhaps one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding, of all residency programs.
“In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is–uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human.”
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
By the world-renowned neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks, this book is a fascinating look at the world of neurology and the many amazing case presentations that come with. A fascinating book from cover to cover, and one that I highly recommend as a great read.
Plus, I can also claim a personal association with Dr Sacks, who passed away in 2015. Dr Sacks once visited the small Pacific island of Pingelap, located in the Federated States of Micronesia, where I worked for nearly five years.
Pingelap is known for its high rates of complete achromatopsia, a genetic condition in which there is total lack of color perception. Those with complete achromatopsia see the world in black, white, and shades of grey. As the legend goes, a 1775 typhoon devastated the island. There was only a small population remaining to re-populate, with one of the island’s rulers carrying the gene for complete achromatopsia, which now effects around 10% of all Pingelapese.
Dr Sacks travelled to Pingelap in the mid-1990s, and subsequently wrote a book entitled The Island of the Colourblind. While I never met the great neurologist, I had several colleagues who did.
They tell me the story of taking Dr Sacks to visit Nan Madol, which is a mysterious city made of enormous hexagonal stones on a coral reef. Nan Madol is of unknown origin, but according to local legend was built by wizards from the island of Chuuk who could move the massive stones with their minds. When you visit, it’s not hard to imagine that the place was truly built by wizards given the amazing mass of stones that have been transported to a coral reef off the island of Pohnpei.
Bob Spegal, originally from Philadelphia, but who has lived in Micronesia as long as I have been alive, and is a stalwart of public health in the Pacific, took Dr Sacks to Nan Madol via boat. According to Spegal, Sacks tarried a little too long photographing the amazing floating city, and by the time they left the sun had already set and the sea was becoming hazardous.
As their small boats moved rapidly through the darkness trying to beat the storm that was rapidly descending with lightning, thunder, and torrential rain, Spegal saw a white object looming rapidly out of the gloom. Just in time, he pulled Sacks, who had been leaning over the edge of the boat, safely back into the boat.
The object, which was a sturdy wooden pole, painted white, and placed in the reef mark a safe passage, would have killed Dr Sacks had it not been for Sega’s quick actions. Sack’s thanked Spegal with a character in his book on Pingelap, who although he doesn’t go by the name Bob, is clearly my friend.
Don’t Just Read About Medicine: Live Medicine!
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