Doctors spend all day focusing on the needs of others, making it crucial that they still get a little “me time.” We’ve put together a list of the best books for doctors, ranging from stories and narratives to self-improvement and investing.
Whether you are a doctor, an aspiring doctor, or looking to gift a special medical practitioner in your life, this list is for you!
Still looking for other ideas? Check out our list of best gifts for doctors!
When Breath Becomes Air
This is a highly-recommended book within the medical field for its devastating and raw perspective of confronting mortality that has brought many to tears. The story involves Paul Kalanithi, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and the questions he faces towards the end of life about what makes a virtuous and meaningful time here on earth.
This is an inspirational novel for all, but is especially poignant for medical students and doctors as they consider confronting life as both the doctor as well as the patient.
How Doctors Think
Making it to the top of our list of the best books for doctors is a book written by Dr. Jerome Groopman and Raphael Recanti. How Doctors Think is about how sometimes in the medical profession doctors make mistakes, taking them off the pedestal a bit and making them a bit more human just like the rest of us. In this book, a certain woman in her thirties suffered stomach cramps on a daily basis and drastically lost weight. For nearly 15 years, doctors were miffed and unable to get the right diagnosis for what her ailment was, consequently unable to find the right treatment. The book highlights the fallibilities of medical doctors and how uncertain the career field itself is, even today.
The book does not fail to point out that these failures and mistakes in medicine can be corrected by understanding properly how doctors think and how to make them think in a way that’s better. The author, Dr. Jerome Groopman also shares some of his personal experiences as a doctor (an oncologist) and a patient. There was a time he suffered from ligament laxity in his right hand, and he had issues with the surgeons in charge of his treatment. This buttresses the fact that in the medical field, there will always be mistakes and failures.
Also included in this book are some interviews that Dr. Groopman himself has conducted of well-known physicians. Learn how doctors think with this book among best books for doctors out there today! Read an excerpt of this book on NPR.
Still deciding on your specialty? Oncology makes our list of the top 30 medical specialties for average salary. Check out our ultimate doctor salary guide here.
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science is a bit different from the other novels that make our list of the best books for doctors. This is a medical book of essays that talks in-depth about medical science. The book comprises of three different sections namely Fallibility, Mystery and Uncertainty. These three sections discuss the obstacles faced by physicians which can cause errors in the medical practice.
Fallibility particularly emphasizes the fact that doctors are humans and can make mistakes. It also brings to the forefront how people regard doctors as non-human, thereby putting a lot of pressure on them not to make any mistakes. The author, Atul Gawande, even cites a personal example of when he almost caused the death of a patient.
Another section of the book is Mystery in medicine which highlights the situations in medicine which no one has explanations for. There are unknown, never-before-heard cases in medicine which science cannot fully explain. In cases like these, physicians may have to rely on their intuitions in figuring out what exactly the problem is. This section highlights the fact that medical science has its limitations and when doctors and their patients understand this, there can be a better relationship between them.
The last section, Uncertainty, brings to like the gray areas in medicine and the prevalence of uncertainty when diagnosing.
Atul Gawande is a brilliant author, surgeon, public health researcher, as well as public speaker. Coincidentally, he makes our best books for doctors list again at #4. Check out his final book that did not make our list here.
The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing
This book sheds light on what physicians, dentists, residents, medical students and other professionals in the medical field face financially. Although this makes our list of the best books for doctors, pretty much everyone could benefit from Dr. James M. Dahle’s perspective on investing and personal finance. I’ve personally read this book, found it insightful on how to invest for the future!
The book points out how doctors receive a high quality and intensive medical education but have little or no education in financial matters, investing, taxes, insurance, and the likes. This book teaches you what you didn’t learn in medical school on how to be financially responsible. It offers lessons on wealth building, getting out of loans, avoiding scams, and a whole lot of other financial education topics. It is a straightforward book with concise points and an easy-to-understand format so that even those with little to no prior understanding of finance or money matters can understand.
The book will teach how to graduate as a medical doctor with little or no debt, know what type of insurance to purchase, understand when to make important financial decisions such as buying a home, as well as help identify the types of investments that are right for you. This is one personalized finance book that all doctors and aspiring doctors should have.
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
This non-fiction book, another making our list of the best books for doctors by Dr. Atul Gawande, is a real-life account of the struggles that the medical professional faces. He highlights the day-to-day struggles of physicians and the fact that sometimes doctors have to choose between doing what has to be done and what can be done.
With accounts of events in the most difficult terrains such as wars, third world countries, hospitals with not-enough medical equipment, etc. Dr. Atul Gawande dives further to give a first-hand account of his own experiences as a surgeon; the challenges he has faced and how mistakes are inevitable. Better is a book that sheds light on the aspect of medicine that a lot of people do not see – the successes amidst the failures of medical professionals. The bulk of what this book dwells on is the will of every medical doctor to do their best regardless of the resources and equipment available to them. This book will give you a renewed sense on the reasons you became a doctor.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
This is another impressive book from the bestselling medical author, Atul Gawande, which looks at the part of medicine that does not save or improve life. This book talks about the major strides that have been achieved in medicine and how medicine has proved to be an important aspect of saving lives. But the part where nobody wants to identify with is that at some point human beings are meant to die.
Death is inevitable and in a lot of cases, medicine is used to extend life unnecessarily. For instance, some elderly people are aging, but normal human spirit would do everything to keep them alive even though their bodies are failing them. Instead of allowing nature take its course, we tend to sign up for devastating and painful medical procedures that extend life and consequently the pain these people feel. What this book points out is that we usually don’t know when or where to stop.
The goal of the book is to sensitize us on how we can all work towards making sure the last moments of a person’s life are dignified.
Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact
This is a book about communication in human relationships by Phil M. Jones, an author and trainer, who has trained over two million people in more than fifty countries in five continents on communication. This book sheds light on how to communicate effectively and be able to pass across the message of what you want, making it among the best books for doctors as well as any other professional who relies on communication every day.
A lot of people find themselves at a loss for what to say and when to say it. This book helps bridge that gap by providing empowerment to people regarding the knowledge of what to say, when to say it, and how to achieve the intended impact. It is an eye-opening book, and it is one of the best books for doctors – as doctors can find themselves needing to communicate sensitive or grave information at critical moments. Phil M. Jones is an excellent communicator, a best-selling author, and is a worldwide-known sales trainer.
Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
Talent Is Overrated is an impressive novel making our list of the best books for doctors for shedding light on one of the areas of life that a lot of people never want to be honest about. It is believed that for a human being to succeed in a line of work, talent is all that is needed. But, according to author Geoff Colvin, that belief is wrong; more than talent is required. In this book, Geoff Colvin points out how perseverance and constant practice is what yields great results. The ability to do something, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes makes you better than someone who only relies on talent to succeed at that same task. Why? Because, in addition to talent, you have experience and a hardworking mindset.
In this book, Geoff points out that every endeavor in life has its success hinged on how much effort is put into it. And it’s not just about working hard. Effort comprises of the actual work, the expertise required which is borne out of experience, mistakes and improving upon these mistakes. With this mindset, this will help the average medical personnel get better at his or her work, and, honestly, anyone else who is striving to be more than average.
My Own Medicine: A Doctor’s Life as a Patient
This is a non-fiction book about how a doctor suffered a life-threatening medical condition in which he must find a cure to. Even as a doctor whose job it is to save lives, this doctor, Dr. Geoffrey Kurland, had to struggle with his own life and find a way to survive. The book is further proof that doctors are humans too and sometimes they go through the sort of things they treat others for. This is a great book for doctors, as it gives the average doctor important lessons on how valuable the human life is. This ultimately helps them become better doctors and better overall human beings.
The book, My Own Medicine, is a real-life account of the experiences of a Pediatric Pulmonologist, Geoffrey Kurland when he suffered from hairy cell leukemia. It highlights all of his travails, diagnosis, the treatments he underwent, and his eventual cure. It is an experience worth reading for every doctor, making it among our list of the best books for doctors and aspiring doctors.
People of the ER
This book, People of the ER, informs us of what an Emergency Room in a medical center looks like and feels like. The Emergency Room is a room filled with just as many sad accounts as hopeful ones. Some of these stories linger for a very long time, and some are quite hard to get over. This is the room where the most painful health conditions are witnessed, where some are holding onto the tiniest leash to life left.
Trauma and death are so vividly painted in this book that even the reader can begin to visualize all these events as well as understand what goes on in the ER. From doctors to patients and student doctors, this is a must-read book!
Surgeon’s Story: If You Can’t Operate in Heels, You Can’t Operate!
This book takes its readers on a journey of experiencing what happens in the cardiac surgical suite at a hospital. In this book, you will go through a journey in the perspective of a pediatric Cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Kristine Guleserian. You will read all of the nitty-gritty involved in fixing the hearts of people, most especially, little children. Amazing stories of victory and success are recounted in this book such as the successful heart transplant that was carried out on a boy and his journey to full recovery!
The book also lets us into the world of becoming a surgeon using Dr. Kristine Guleserian as a case study. We will look at her experience, years of training, what she went through, how much work she has done, and how much effort she put into her career to become the well-known surgeon she is today. Her personality is also explored in this book and how much of a model she is to other surgeons out there. Surgeon’s Story is among our favorite books for doctors and aspiring doctors.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery
This is another book among the many best books for doctors that addresses the questions that even non-doctors have. It is a book about being a brain surgeon, and it explores every aspect of the medical field of brain surgery. Questions are addressed like what it feels like to cut into a person’s brain knowing full well that their life may be lost during the procedure.
In this book, we are made to understand how delicate, dangerous, risky and uncertain it is to carry out surgery on the brain. This line of medical profession is one that brings about a detachment of human emotions for surgeons, making painful decisions, and being calm in the face of intense risk and fear. Whether or not you intend on being or are a brain surgeon, this book will give you a new perspective on the field and what kind of pressures come with performing brain surgery.
When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery
For everyone who is a medical doctor, a patient, and those studying to be a medical doctor, this is one of the best books for doctors to read. Written by Frank T. Vertosick Jr., When the Air Hits Your Brain gives vivid images of what brain surgery entails. The author, a Neurosurgeon, talks about his journey as a student to the point where he became a world-class neurosurgeon.
The details of neurosurgery and brain surgery are well laid out in this book, and mind-boggling instances are laid out for the discerning mind to understanding the seriousness of this line of medical work.
When the Air Hits Your Brain is a candid detailing of when the head is opened and surgical procedures are about to commence. The realities of what goes on in the operating room are brought to light in this book, and everyone should read it whether you are in the medical profession or not.
The House of God
The House of God is a novel about six interns who suddenly get exposed to the realities of the medical world. Through realities they were not prepared for but must be involved in any way – from long hours of work to witnessing life-death situations and decisions, these interns have to learn through it all, emerging as great doctors with every part of their humanities intact.
This book is uncensored imagery of what it is like to want to be a doctor. The training, the work put into it and all of the gory details no one ever tells students who want to be medical doctors. This is a great book for doctors and aspiring doctors because it helps prepare the mind for the challenges ahead without sugarcoating the bad parts. It is a critically acclaimed book that has sold over two million copies worldwide!
This is Going to Hurt
If you’ve heard of this book recently, it may be because it was recently turned into its very own tv show!
An amazing page-turner, you may find that you finish this book by Adam Kay in one sitting!
You’ll read through the personal diary of Adam Kay, a junior doctor in the NHS. For those who are non-Brits, you will see a firsthand look at the work of doctors in the NHS – some of which includes being overworked, underpaid, and, unfortunately, undervalued in society.
This book takes us through his first death, loss of relationships due to the realities of his career, and the gore of training as an obstetrician – gynecologist. All the while, Kay keeps us entertained through comedic and touching tales.
Simultaneously funny, insightful and heart-breaking - we absolutely recommend this book to any doctor or soon-to-be doctor.
Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese is not only a celebrated doctor, but an amazing writer as well. This is a fictional story about home and belonging – both to your country and to those you love.
Family, in this book, is defined by those with a great connection, whether this is through blood or through loyalty and dependability.
Cutting for Stone is a great reprieve from the non-fiction stories in this list but that includes medical jargon and stories that could be appreciated by those in healthcare.
Best Books for Doctors FAQ
What reference books do doctors use?
Doctors generally consult professional journals or various online resources including Medline, eMedicine, and UpToDate.
What are the best books for medical students?
Many of the books in this list offer insight and inspiration for medical students including The White Coat Investor and Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery.
We hope you were able to find something you liked in our best books for doctors list! If you are still a student planning on med school, be sure to check out all of our helpful MCAT tools & resources and favorite MCAT prep books!