Seven Books to Prepare You for Med School

Being a doctor can be a rewarding and lucrative career, but it may not be for everyone. Even for those suited to become doctors, entering the profession can sometimes be a shock. Especially in the COVID era, when health care professionals have to adapt, and quickly, to caring for people stricken with this new disease. We see doctors and medical professionals as heroes because of their courageous front-line work; but we also see clearly how demanding this career really is. 

If you’re a new or prospective medical student, check out the following reading list. A mix of memoir, non-fiction and reference, this small library should be required reading for any undergrad student pondering or preparing for a career in the medical profession.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, by Adam Kay

Doctor turned comedian Adam Kay speaks with frank humor of his years as a junior doctor in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. He writes about the deluge of bodily fluids he had to deal with, life and death situations, and the endless, ninety-hour shifts he experienced while training to become an obstetrician and gynecologist. Be warned, though – even though this book is written to be funny, there’s no small amount of heartbreak here, especially when Kay decides to leave medicine.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh

In the same vein as This is Going to Hurt, British doctor Henry Marsh discusses his life as a brain surgeon. He puts a human face on the experience of being a neurosurgeon: the good, the bad, and the ugly; the life-affirming and the abjectly heartbreaking. Each chapter revolves around a different case he dealt with, and puts a very human face on the dry ethical questions medical students must study. For instance, Dr. Marsh once had to work quickly to save a patient; knowing that his actions gave the best chance of survival but would leave the person paralyzed for life. The reader is invited to ponder these ethical questions along with Dr. Marsh, and decide if he did the right thing or not. Though this book ought to be required reading for any student considering neurosurgery, any prospective medical student can gain valuable insight by reading.

Being Mortal: Medicine, Illness, and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, they’ll need no small amount of geriatric, and eventually palliative, care. Harvard-trained surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande discusses the history of both elder care and end of life care in the United States, starting from the unpleasant and stark “old folks’ homes” in the early 1900s, and tracing their development into today’s nursing homes and retirement centers. He further discusses the challenges and questions modern families face when deciding what to do with an ailing loved one, including an in-depth discussion of the economics shaping and influencing many such decisions. And Dr. Gawande compares this system, for better or worse, with what he’s seen and experienced in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, where elders occupy a very different social role.

Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre

In the era of anti-vaxx social media groups and Web MD-driven hypochondria, doctors face a new and unique modern challenge: how to educate and inform a patient with the entire Internet, including the abjectly wrong parts, at their fingertips. Dr. Goldacre not only debunks some popular health myths (such as ‘toxins’, certain alternative medicines, and, yes, anti-vaxx) but also teaches prospective doctors how to separate good information from bad. Readers learn how to tell a good study from a suspect one, and identify when the researchers have been influenced by corporations or other dark money. This book is a must-read not only for doctors, but anyone wishing to become a more-informed citizen.

Med School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Medical School Experience, by Students, for Students, by Robert H. Miller and Daniel M. Bissell

The title says it all, really! This volume carefully walks the reader through the entire process of becoming a doctor: applying to medical school, the experience of being a med student, then completing one’s clinical rotations, residencies and internships. It even goes into detail about experiences non-students may not be aware of, such as the need to pass the USMLE exams in order to continue with schooling. Anyone considering, applying to, or preparing to begin medical school should read this book to become better prepared for the road ahead.

White Coat, by Ellen L. Rothman

White Coat is the memoir version of Med School Confidential. Dr. Lerner takes the reader through a thoughtful and reflective remembrance of each year of her four years at Harvard Medical School. She grapples with issues every doctor must confront, such as how to build rapport and trust with patients while not growing too close to them. Readers can see her struggle in real-time with modern issues as problems presented by actual people; such as health care management, AIDS, and even assisted suicide. Aspiring medical students will surely see themselves in Dr. Rothman, and hopefully mirror her journey from a terrified first-year student to a confident and competent doctor.

Where There is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, by David Werner

Dr. Werner bases this book on his experience treating diseases and medical issues common in developing nations, including malnutrition, parasites, and family planning. However, the insights he’s gained are broadly applicable to any doctor with an interest in community medicine or serving poorer communities in the developed world. His book, half memoir and half guide to rural medicine, seamlessly blends private care with education on public health systems and how to implement them in resource-scarce communities. Not only is this a must-read for anyone with an interest in treating rural patients, it’s a critical manual for doctors intending to practice community-based medicine.

Other Resources

Obviously, this list is neither exhaustive nor definitive. And there are certainly more ways to prepare for medical school and becoming a doctor than these books. Though they’re certainly useful, you’ll eventually need to branch out. And in today’s COVID era, sometimes that’s not as simple as visiting the medical library.

Fortunately, The internet is filled with quality online medical courses that can help you prepare for any difficult exams like the USMLE.  Companies like Amboss, UWord, Lecturio are already preparing to meet the needs of this year’s class of medical students; some offer USMLE preparations courses with Real-life clinical scenarios test with Integrated spaced repetition algorithm to improves your ability to recall key information.  , 

Both those just starting out and those soon to graduate. Easily stay up to date on the latest COVID research, pick up home-study guides, and even go over case histories and learn the best ways to communicate with COVID patients.

And who knows, perhaps one day soon, your own book may appear on a list like this!

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