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Recommended Reading

The following is a wonderful compilation of books selected specifically for students going into the health professions. It includes stories of the experiences of health practitioners from their years as students, interns, residents, and practicing doctors and nurses.

  • Patients speak out as well; please honor them by learning from their riveting tales.  
  • Don’t avoid a book just because it’s older -- not too long ago, doctors and nurses had to be able to diagnose without depending on instrumentation. Read their descriptions about how they did that; this is a skill that you will need every day of your professional life.

Have you read a book that made an impression on you, written by or about a medical practitioner or a patient? Please tell us about it!

(We thank Sue Vazakas, MA, MLS, PhD, from the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins, who consolidated and updated several universities’ lists of recommended readings to create this one.)


After Harm: Medical Error and the Ethics of Forgiveness (2005)
Nancy Berlinger

Here Is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics (2010)
Misha Angrist

Classic Cases In Medical Ethics: Accounts Of Cases That Have Shaped Medical Ethics With Philosophical, Legal, And Historical Background (2004)
Gregory E. Pence

Doctors' Dilemmas: Moral Conflict and Medical Care (1982)
Samuel Gorovitz

Drawing The Line, Life, Death, And Ethical Choices In An American Hospital (1991)
Samuel Gorovitz

Forgive And Remember: Managing Medical Failure (1979)
Charles L. Bosk

Principles of Biomedical Ethics (many editions; latest is 2013)
Tom Beauchamp and James Childress

Tough Decisions: A Casebook in Medical Ethics, 2nd ed. (2001)
John M. Freeman

Woman Who Decided to Die, The: Challenges and Choices at the Edges of Medicine (2009)
Ronald Munson


Boys In White: Student Culture In Medical School (1961)
Howard S. Becker

Chiropractic In America: The History of a Medical Alternative (1993)
Stuart Moore

Emperor of All Maladies: a biography of cancer (2010)
Siddhartha Mukherjee

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)
Rebecca Skloot

Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History (1994)
Sheila Rothman

Medical Apartheid: the Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonia. Times to the Present (2006)
Harriet Washington

Medical Messiahs, A Social History Of Health Quackery In Twentieth-Century America (1967)
Harvey Young

Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America (1988)
Norman Gevitz

The Plague Makers - How We Are Creating Catastrophic New Epidemics, and What We Must Do to Avert Them (1994)
Jeffrey Fister

Social Transformation of American Medicine (1982)
Paul Starr

Time To Heal: American medical education from the turn of the century to the era of managed care (1999)
Kenneth Ludmerer


Animal Hospital (1996)
Stephen Sawicki

First, Do No Harm: the Dramatic Story of Real Doctors and Patients Making Impossible Choices at a Big-City Hospital (1993)
Lisa Belkin

Something for the Pain: Compassion and Burnout in the ER (2009)
Paul Austin

Stories Of Sickness (1987)
Howard Brody

Taking Care Of Our Own: A Year In The Life Of A Small Hospital (1994)
Susan Garrett


Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between (2011)
Theresa Brown

A Nurse’s Story (2005)
Tilda Shalof


Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (2000)
Laurie Garrett

Call Of Service, The: A Witness To Idealism (1993)
Robert Coles

Death and Dignity (1994) [this case was the basis for a Supreme Court case]
Timothy Quill

Doctor’s Stories: The Narrative Structure Of Medical Knowledge (1991)
Kathryn Hunter

Doctors in the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Aah (2000)
Peter Dans

Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS (1994)
Emily Martin

Goldberger’s War: the Life and Work of a Public Health Crusader (2003)
Alan Kraut

Illness As Metaphor; and AIDS and Its Metaphors (1979 and 1990)
Susan Sontag

Language of Life, The: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (2010)
Francis Collins (Director of NIH)

On the Ledge: a Doctor’s Stories from the Inner City (1996)
Neil Skolnick

Reconstructing Illness: Studies In Pathography (1993)
Anne Hawkins

Woman In The Body, The: A Cultural Analysis Of Reproduction (1987)
Emily Martin


An Unquiet Mind (1995)
Kay Redfield Jamison (a JHU psychiatrist)

Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient; Reflections on Healing and Regeneration (2005)
Norman Cousins

At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness (1991)
Arthur Frank

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir (2005)
Richard Cohen (the husband of TV news correspondent Meredith Viera)

Cancer Journals,1980)
Audre Lorde (Caribbean-American lesbian writer)

Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness (1992)
William Stryon (author of Sophie’s Choice)

Death of the Good Doctor: Lessons from the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic (1999)
Kate Scannell

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death (1997)
Jean-Dominique Bauby

Don't Die of Embarrassment: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures (1994)
Barbara Barrie (actress)

Drinking, A Love Story (1996)
Caroline Knapp

Equal Partners: a Physician’s Call for a New Spirit of Medicine (1995)
Jody Heymann

Girl Interrupted (1993) [made into a film in 1999]
Susanna Kaysen

Intoxicated By My Illness: and Other Writings on Life and Death (1992)
Anatole Broyard

It's Always Something (1989)
Gilda Radner (from early days of Saturday Night Live)

Leg To Stand On (1984)
Oliver Sacks (neurologist)

Lucky Man (2002)
Michael J. Fox (actor)

Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985)
Oliver Sacks (neurologist)

My Own Country: a doctor’s story of a town and its people in the age of AIDS
Abraham Verghese, 1994

My Year Off, Recovering Life After A Stroke (1998)
Robert McCrum

Not All Of Us Are Saints: a Doctor’s Journey with the Poor (1994)
David Hilfiker

On Being A Doctor 2: Voices of Physicians and Patients (2000)
Edited By Michael A. Lacombe

Patrimony: A True Story (1991)
Philip Roth

Taste Of My Own Medicine, A: When The Doctor Is The Patient (1988)
Edward Rosenbaum

Tuesdays with Morrie (1997)
Mitch Albom

Whole New Life (1994)
Reynolds Price (Duke University English professor; novelist and poet)


Desire To Heal, The: A Doctor's Education In Empathy, Identity, and Poetry (1997)
Rafael Campo

Landscape With Human Figure (2002)
Rafael Campo

On Wings Of Spirit (2002) [selection of poems from JAMA. The poets are physicians, nurses, patients, technicians, lay caregivers, and family members.]
John Graham-Pole & Chuck Joy, eds.


Corporate Transformation Of Health Care: The Perspectives And Implications (1994)
J. Warren Salmon

Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare (2012)
Eric Topol

Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes, and Medical Hubris Undermine Nurses and Patient Care (2005)
Suzanne Gordon

The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine (2010)
Kevin Davies

The Health Care Handbook: A Clear and Concise Guide to the United States Health Care System (2012)
E. Askin and N. Moore (both med students from Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis; a clear “user’s manual” that explains our health care system and the policies that will change it)


Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside (2006)
Katrina Firlik

Better: a Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (2007)
Atul Gawande

Caring For Patients from Different Cultures: Case Studies from American Hospitals (2008)
Geri-Ann Galanti

Complications : A Surgeon's Notes On An Imperfect Science (2002)
Atul Gawande

Doctors: the Biography of Medicine (1988)
Sherwin B. Nuland

Doctor's Stories: The Narrative Structure Of Medical Knowledge (1991)
Kathryn Hunter

Empathy and the Practice of Medicine: Beyond Pills and the Scalpel
Howard Spiro, Et Al.

Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis (2009)
Lisa Sanders (technical advisor for the TV show House)

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (1990)
Ben Carson (former JHU pediatric neurosurgeon)

Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon (2010)
Kathy E. Magliato.

House Calls: How We Can All Heal the World One Visit at a Time (1998)
Patch Adams And Pamela Jacobs

How Doctors Think (2007)
Jerome Groopman

How We Die: Reflecting on Life’s Final Chapter (1994)
Sherwin Nuland 

In The Country Of Hearts: Journeys In The Art Of Medicine (1990)
John Stone

Joycelyn Elders, M.D., From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the USA (1996)
Joycelyn Elders

Letters To A Young Doctor (1982)
Richard Selzer

Life After Medical School: Thirty-two Doctors Describe How They Shaped Their Medical Careers (1996)
Leonard Laster

Living In The Shadow Of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History (1994)
Sheila Rothman

Mountains Beyond Mountains (A Biographical Look at Dr. Paul Farmer, 2003)
Tracy Kidder

Piece of My Mind: A Collection of Essays from JAMA (1988 and 2000)
Bruce Dan And Roxanne Young

Scalpel And The Silver Bear (1999)
Lori Arviso Alvord (a doctor who is Navajo)

Soul of Medicine: Tales from the Bedside (2009)
Sherwin Nuland

Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down, The: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (1997)
Anne Fadiman

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine (2013)
Danielle Ofri

When The Phone Rings, My Bed Shakes: Memoirs Of A Deaf Doctor (1993)
Philip Zazove

White Coat, White Cane: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Blind Physician (1978)
David Hartman & B. Asbell

Woman in the Body, The: A Cultural Analysis Of Reproduction (1987)
Emily Martin

Women In Medicine: Getting In, Growing, and Advancing (2000)
Janet Bickel


A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student (1987)
Perry Klass

Baby Doctor (1992)
Perry Klass

Baby E.R.: The Heroic Doctors and Nurses Who Perform Medicine's Tiniest Miracles (2000)
Edward Humes

Body of Work : Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab (2007)
Christine Montross

Final Exam: a Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality (2007)
Pauline Chen

Health Professional and Patient Interaction (2002)
Ruth B. Purtilo And Amy Haddad

Human Side Of Medicine, The: Learning What It's Like To Be a Patient and What It's Like To Be a Physician (2002)
Laurence A. Savett

Intern: a Doctor’s Initiation (2009)
Sandeep Jauhar

Let Me Listen To Your Heart: Writings by Medical Students (2002)
Edited By David S. Svahn

Mysteries Within, The: A Surgeon Explores Myth, Medicine, and the Human Body (2001)
Sherwin B. Nuland

On Call: a Doctor’s Days and Nights in Residency (2004)
Emily Transue

Pact, The: Three Young Men Make A Promise and Fulfill A Dream (2002)
Sampson Davis

White Coat: Becoming A Doctor At Harvard Medical School (1999)
Ellen Lerner Rothman


Other Sites  (which have many of the same but some different selections from ours)