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Top 5 books about being a doctor

There have been many attempts to describe what it is like to be a doctor. These books can be helpful to those thinking about becoming a doctor and to those who are new in the job. What book would you recommend to someone looking to be a doctor? Here are our top 5. Have you read some of them? Are there any glaring omissions? What are your favourites?

1.   Bedside Stories: Confessions of a Junior Doctor - Michael Foxton

For two years, Michael Foxton wrote about his experiences as a junior doctor in the NHS for the Guardian. Vivid, hilarious and often alarming, his book has gone on to find a cult following among doctors and patients alike. His observations illuminate the quirks, horrors and delights of all aspects of doctoring, from casualty to the psychiatric ward. Foxton tells us what it really feels like to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and introduces us to a mixed cast of patient that includes the rude, the violent, and the outrageously flirtatious.

2.   In Stitches: The Highs and Lows of Life as an A&E Doctor - Nick Edwards

Dr Nick Edwards writes with shocking honesty about life as an A&E doctor. He lifts the lid on government targets that led to poor patient care. He reveals the level of alcohol-related injuries that often bring the service to a near standstill. He shows just how bloody hard it is to look after the people who turn up at the hospital door. But he also shares the funny side - the unusual ‘accidents’ that result in with weird objects inserted in places they really should have ended up - and also the moving, tragic and heartbreaking.

3.   Trust Me, I'm a (Junior) Doctor - Max Pemberton

Starting on the evening before he begins work as a doctor, this book charts Max Pemberton's touching and funny journey through his first year in the NHS. Progressing from youthful idealism to frank bewilderment, Max realises how little his job is about 'saving people' and how much of his time is taken up by signing forms and trying to figure out all the important things no one has explained yet -- for example, the crucial question of how to tell whether someone is dead or not.

4.   Complications: A surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science - Dr Atul Gawande 

Gently dismantling the myth of medical infallibility, Dr Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science is essential reading for anyone involved in medicine--on either end of the stethoscope. Medical professionals make mistakes, learn on the job and improvise much of their technique and self-confidence. Gawande's tales are humane and passionate reminders that doctors are people, too.

5.   Bodies – Jed Mercurio

 The unnamed narrator of Jed Mercurio's Bodies is a newly qualified house officer in a busy city hospital. He arrives with his ideals intact and a vision of what his career in medicine will be. Within a short time the relentless procession of sick and damaged patients, the long, wearying hours he is obliged to work, the cynicism of his colleagues and the constant presence of death and disease take their toll. His idealism vanishes.

 

38 replies

  • I read 'Bedside Stories: Confessions of a Junior Doctor - Michael Foxton' about 3 years ago. My mum was poorly at the time (which she's well recovered from now!), and it gave us so much laughter reading it together! It was a little before my fourth year exams, so it was some light hearted relief from revision (but as it was still roughly medical, there was no guilt associated with reading it!). He covers some really serious and dark aspects of being a junior doctor, but expresses a lot through humour. It made me realise that a lot has improved in doctors' working lives since then, but there is still a long way to go!

  • In reply to Melody Grace Redman:

    That's such a nice story - thanks for sharing!

    We've also had a few more suggestions on Twitter, like "In Stitches," "Do No Harm," and "The House of God."

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Sara Kuhlman:

    The Doctor Stories by WIlliam Carlos Williams are compulsory reading for American Medical students, and should be here. First published in 1932 - and still in print - they are still rich with the hurdles, sadnesses and joys of medicine.  

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    This list of books is skewed towards the first few years in today’s world of medicine and may discourage entry into our profession. My favourite ‘medical’ book which might inspire some is ‘The Story of San Michele’ by Axel Munthe. Amidst his professional reminiscences about cholera epidemics, euthanasia, mental illness and childbirth around a century ago we hear of his personal interaction with Charcot and Pasteur, and the other medical figures with whom he worked. He was an animal lover and his dog stories and the antics of his pet baboon, Billy and his house in Capri (San Michele – you can still visit today) are as entertaining as the stories of his patients, many of whom seemed to have physical symptoms, caused by anxiety. Some of his views are politically incorrect nowadays but it’s a great read.      

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    I'm 58, so it has to be "House of God". I read it when young but my idealism was being challenged by the realities of life as a junior. I found it cathartic. By the use of very dark humour & portrayal of the cynicism of self defense it helped me to temper my idealism with reality and find my own way, rather than simply becoming disillusioned. The daddy of them all.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I'm 68 and "House of God" is definitely the granddaddy of them all. Dark, deeply cynical (GOMER's never die) and very funny, it is none the less ultimately a humane book which exposes the frailties of both doctors and patients.

    For a view of being a country GP in a gentler age "A fortunate life" is a great read.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Nigel Hurst:

    HOUSE OF GOD. Still appropriate today. Compulsory reading for all would be doctors.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    The Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov was fabulous. He was a graduate from Kiev. It put any nightmare times during my training into perspective

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    House of God - classic cult medical reading that's lent multiple terms to the medical vocabulary.

    Met Samuel Shem a few years ago and the wry sense of humour is still there though perhaps tempered by experience.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    Dancing with Mr D by Bert Keizer. A hilarious and profound book about death and palliative care. Brave and original and marvellously written.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    My favorite as well.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    House of God, Houseman's Tales and the other Dr Colin Currie's books. The real truth behind the Junior doctor's lot. Essential reading. On tele the only 3 that get anywhere near are Cardiac Arrest, Bodies & ? Angels (Nurse's outlook though)

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    House of God, the Catch 22 of medicine. All students who have qualified and not yet started should fit it into July.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    In reply to Anonymous:

    House of God, the Catch 22 of medicine. All students who have qualified and not yet started should fit it into July.