Top 10 books to survive medical school

Synergistic tomes for the well-rounded physician

I am drawn to an article from the New York Times extolling the virtues of literature in the education of physicians. I would like to share the sentiments of the author and add to the resurgent pullulation with an eclectic selection of my literature favourites which guided me through my formative training. Many of the tomes are ineluctable and in conjunction with erudite medical texts lead to a propitious experience.

My Top Ten Synergistic Texts

  1. The Story of San Michele (Axel Munthe) – Part fact, part fiction this tale of exploration, travel and wonderment still leaves me in awe.
  2. The Cocktail Party – (T.S.Eliot) Part satire of the traditional British drawing-room comedy and part philosophical discourse on the nature of human relations, the play, like many of Eliot’s works, uses elements that border on the ridiculous to raise awareness of the isolation that is the human condition.
  3. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky) – A satire of human corruption; a meditation on faith and religious institutions and a testament to the goodness and bravery of the human spirit.
  4. The night they burned the mountain (Dr Tom Dooley) – From physician to combat soldier to cancer victim in a precipitously short time. Three books explore inhumanity and humanity and the cruelty of ideolegies versus the compassion of the individual.
  5. The House of God (Samuel Shem a.k.a Stephen Bergman) – To best understand this classic, read the ‘physician writers reflections‘ in Annals
  6. Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse) – Trial and error leads to enlightenment through attentive listening to a river’s murmuring. In Sanskrit, a compound of “siddha” means “accomplished” or “fulfilled,” and a compound of “artha” means “aim” and “wealth.” Therefore, “Siddhartha” is literally “the wealth of a fulfilled aim.”
  7. How Doctors Think (Jerome Groopman) – proffers insight into the way in which we are taught and the inherent complications of herd instinct, stereotypical judgements and tunnel vision.
  8. As I walked out one midsummer morning (Laurie Lee) – Capturing the spirit of adventure, discovery and explanatory reasoning
  9. The man who mistook his wife for a hat (Oliver Sacks) – tales of insight and discovery from Dr Sacks – a physician, humanist and philosopher
  10. The Anatomy of Hope (Jerome Groopman) – Hopes, fears and realization pertaining to medical illness
  11. The Housemans Trilogy (Colin Douglas) – The way things were – the way they are

Be sure to read any of the Annals Collection of Physician Essays such as “Empty Pockets” Dr. Kevan Pickrel

A masterful piece of writing by Philip J Overby on ‘the moral education of doctors’ – is also well worth a read

My own list would be the following: Plato’s ‘Republic’ for an introduction to questions of justice; Aristotle’s ‘Physics’ for an account of nature that is not vacuous; Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov for a poetic portrait of man; and Shakespeare’s King Lear for all of the above. The students would be tested for mastery of these works just as they are tested for mastery of the sciences. This would ensure that everyone had at least a minimum grasp of the larger tradition that gave rise to natural science and a context for understanding its existence and meaning

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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