Medical School Books: the Top 5 to Read Before Applying to Study Medicine



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Recently, a wealth of Junior Doctors' real-life stories have been published. These stories can help you get under the skin of the profession and work out if it's for you. They include the good, the funny, the bad and the outright ugly aspects of the job.

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Top 5 books to read before pursuing a life-long career in medicine:

1. Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh:

Do No Harm is about consultant neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, his patients, their health outcomes, and how the NHS system can be difficult for clinicians.

Overall, the book is a very interesting exposure to Henry Marsh's notable cases and patients throughout his career.

One of the most insightful parts relates to his errors as a surgeon. His reflections on this help to understand the process of coming to terms with mistakes. Reflecting on how you deal with setbacks is great material for your personal statement.

The words paint a vivid picture of life as a surgeon, including the angst, the fears, the occasional elation, and the dejection that it can all bring.

One of the key themes is tearing down the age-old notion that surgeons are fearless and without error.

For a summary, we recommend you check out this talk by Mr Marsh.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi:

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This book was published posthumously as a memoir about his life, illness and battle against lung cancer.

The book documents Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous life into a neurosurgeon, and finally into a patient and a new father.

In the book, Paul asks deep and profound questions such as:

 “What makes life worth living in the face of death? What can you do when life becomes interrupted? What do you do when you have a child, as your own life comes to an end?”

Overall, this book tackles ideas surrounding our mortality and the relationship between doctor and patient.

This book brings so much value to its reader’s own personal development and perspective of the decisions we make, it is most definitely worth a read.

The profound issues raised can help you develop your motivation statement, which will certainly be questioned at interview.

‍3. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay:

This Is Going To Hurt is a collection of diary entries written by Adam Kay during his medical training post-medical school from 2004 to 2010 as he was training to be an Obstetrician.

Written in highly comedic style, Kay's book discusses political issues in the NHS and societal conflicts between the general population and neglected doctors. This is particularly relevant in light of junior doctor strikes which were prevalent in recent years.

This book demonstrates vital lessons about training as a medical doctor, what it does and does not entail. Kay affectionately shares some shocking stories from his medical days which he puts a comedy twist on until you reach the end and out why Kay decided to finally leave the profession for good. 

This book is highly recommended as it highlights what life is really like on the wards and the damage life as a doctor can have on your personal relationships, mental health and the expectations of others. 

‍4. The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topol

The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topol:

Eric Topol is a US cardiologist and expert in the digital transformation of healthcare. This book, in particular, highlights at the broad conceptual level, how healthcare is changing dramatically in light of technology.   Although more relevant to the US system, there are frequent references to key themes for healthcare globally. In particular, how technologies, such as telemedicine and artificial intelligence can lead to the "democratisation of healthcare" and make medicine more empathetic.

For a related publication on the topic, you can check out Deep Medicine.

‍5. War Doctor by David Nott

War Doctor by David Nott:

For those who are interested in the idea of emergency medicine in extreme environments, this is undoubtedly for you.

This book is narrative-heavy with the story of how David Nott took unpaid leave from the NHS to work at some of the world’s most dangerous war zones, including Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Gaza and Syria. Nott is widely acknowledged to be one of the most experienced trauma surgeons in the world.

This is highly recommended to those who want to truly understand what drives doctors on the front line to achieve their utmost for their patients in terrible circumstances. It takes a special kind of person to do what Nott did. Are you that special kind of person too?

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