By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
When I ask pre-health students what they read during the summer for fun, they usually say Jane Austen. At least about half of them do. The other half used to say Harry Potter, but I don’t hear that as much anymore, which is just as well since they always seemed a little too old for Hogwarts if you ask me. Game of Thrones is a pretty popular response these days, or science fiction (but never a specific title), or “oh, you know, I love the classics” (which makes me smile), or sometimes, quite honestly, they say that they don’t read at all outside of class. I worry about this last group. What, you don’t read Anna Karenina at the pool? Shameful! No, seriously, not the news? Nothing? Not even blog posts?
Well, this is a blog post, and you’re here, so you’re to be commended. It’s not that you should read the loftiest texts you can find, but when the semester isn’t in full swing, you do have the chance to relax with a book entirely of your own choosing. You can take the critical thinking skills you’ve been learning in college and apply them to one of your favorite topics. There is something rather freeing about that, I think. The summer is the perfect time to fly without a syllabus.
At the risk of taking away that freedom by handing you a syllabus, allow me to make a few recommendations to those of you who hold medicine up as one of your favorite topics. Doctors who write about doctoring, let me warn you . . . some are terrific and some terrible, with everything in between. Here are a few of my favorites:
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. One of the better examples of the doctor/writer sharing advice with the world. Gawande is a keen observer of his colleagues, his profession, and his own performance. I found most helpful the chapters on malpractice and on the ethical dilemmas surrounding lethal injection executions. His earlier book, Complications, is supposed to be equally well-written and engaging.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder. Compelling Pulitzer-winning narrative about the Harvard MD who is deeply devoted to tackling TB and HIV and other public health crises in Haiti, Cuba, and Peru. If you’re interested in global health and you haven’t read this very popular book already, you should.
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman. Like Gawande, Groopman is interested in success and failure. The book is organized around heroic colleagues who have performed impressive acts of perception in diagnosing patients—and investigates what it is in doctors’ psyches that empowers some caregivers and not others.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. One of my all-time favorite books written by a doctor—a doctor who is a beautiful wordsmith. And it’s a novel! About twin brothers growing up in Ethiopia and the journey of one of the brothers, a physician, to New York for his internship.
The Heath Care Handbook by Elisabeth Askin & Nathan Moore. A very readable overview of our health care system (particularly helpful to anyone preparing to interview at a health professional school). The basics.
What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine by Danielle Ofri. I just started it. Dr. Ofri is the author of several insightful books and countless columns about medicine, and has been revealing meaning in doctor-patient relationships for years now. I’ll have it with me at the lake in August!
So, check out one of these titles, or all of them, or none. Or read Dan Brown’s Inferno instead—or better yet, Dante’s version. Read anything you want! Just read.