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The 5 best books for medical students to read

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No, I don’t mean Guyton, Hall’s or Underwoods. I mean the books for medical students that really enrich your life, the ones that get you excited about the endless possibilities your future holds and the pages that tell a story, so heart-wrenching, yet full of optimism.

As medical students, we are scourging over up-to-date, perusing through pubmed and tediously working through what is yet another 160-slide PowerPoint with a blue background and yellow text. It is important to know the theory, learn pathophysiology and appreciate the beauty of the human body.

BUT as future doctors, we need to be more. We need to be the ones who can always appreciate the varied lives of all our patients. We need to be kind. Through reading widely, maybe we can hopefully enrich our own lives and gain meaningful glances into the lives of those around us.

So which book made the list? As many of these lists are, they are biased. Yet I hope all of these books can achieve at least one of the following:

  1. Make you reflect on a topic,
  2. Make you feel emotionally connected to the story, and/or
  3. Helps you in your day-to-day life.

I know, I know… It is a bit of a vague list. Not exactly the most scientific either. But alas, neither is the human experience, it is often messy so let us embrace that chaos.

If you’re a medical student looking for medical books.

Side note, if you are looking for medical books, this list is not for you. Although, if you want a super quick list of popular medical narratives, here you go:

  1. Do no harm by Henry Marsh
  2. When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi
  3. This is going to hurt by Adam Kaye
  4. Emotional female by Yumiko Kadota
  5. Being mortal by Atul Gawade
  6. Tell me the truth by Ranjana Srivastava

Our recommended books for medical students. Okay, now to THIS list

Growing up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Anita Heiss

Being the child of migrant parents, I was raised in a migrant community. At school, we learnt of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories about the rainbow serpent and the breathtaking art styles. Yet it wasn’t really until recently when I was on placement and having met some Aboriginal children did I begin to think about the experiences of growing up Aboriginal in Australia.

This book, edited by Anita Heiss, is a collection of short reflective memoir-style pieces of many Aboriginal voices about their childhood. Through reading this book, I appreciated that the assumed innocence of childhood is often disturbed, stolen by the ugly faces of racism, injustice and abuse from the adult society seeping into the lives of children.

What I really appreciated about this book was the fact that it examined an intersection of voices – unique experiences of many across the landscape of Australian society. Some of the stories were from the late 1980s to early 1990s with historical references to the Redfern park speech.

Given the context of the recent Australian federal election [2022] and our newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s commitment to the Uluru Statement, I think this book is a must read for all medical students. For those who have been on their paediatrics rotation, we all know how important childhood is for developing a sense of identity and where we belong in the world. This book, through the voice of many, truly captures a multitude of experiences Aboriginal children – now adults – have experienced in our beautiful, but sometimes flawed, society

Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman

Toxic positivity is exactly what it sounds like. Being too positive about negative situations actually denies the chance and dismisses real concerns that people have. I think Whitney Goodman’s writing here comes from the heart as a clinical psychologist and highlights the importance for us to acknowledge ALL our emotions – both the good and the bad. I think what I’ve appreciated as well in this book is the “good vibes only” attitude and how as a society we may often be dismissive of anything that is less than “positive”.

As future doctors, I think we need to understand that we are truly working with people in their most difficult moments and understanding that not every moment is going to be filled with sunshine and rainbows, is fundamental to allowing our patients to feel heard. I think the other plus for me in reading this book is its ability in providing helpful suggestions on how to respond in a compassionate, non-dismissing way when people come to you with awful, heartbreaking situations. Having a few phrases that you can practice and better react when a future patient shares something really difficult with you is going to go a long way

How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie

If we are to trace the ancestral lineage of all our self-help books, this would be the grandfather (no sources, just a guess). What is so superb about this book is its timelessness as it gives practical tips in navigating social situations and allowing you to work well with all people. Personally, it has been a while since I’ve read this but I remember when I first read the book, I really felt inspired to look back and reflect on small interactions and understand the impacts they make.

Something you might be doing already that the book mentions, is actually making sure you are pronouncing the names of people you meet correctly. In a multicultural society like ours, it is an easy way to make those around us feel appreciated when we can get people’s names right. Spend five minutes before your next clinic list starts just to make sure you know the names of all your patients and for more brownie points, the names of people they may come into clinic with. In a healthcare context, while its not always possible, these useful tips allow us to put in place small habits we can do to make our patients feel seen, heard, cared for and important to us as future healthcare professionals

Sort your money out by Glen James

Financial literacy is not something that is taught in medical school. Until I read this book, I was never really sure what superannuation is, what are the mechanisms behind ETFs or what HECs debt really was. I know, scary.

Glen does a fantastic job in making financial literacy something accessible to all audiences no matter how much you knew beforehand. This book has something in it for everyone. It is written in a conversational tone with lots of helpful case study examples of normal Australians and how they are managing their finances. It makes it a bit less daunting to know there is a community of people out there that the book showcases who are also working towards ensuring that their finances are organised.

This book allows you to understand the skills you need to have good financial hygiene (yes stay clean) while keeping it light and fun to read. It isn’t financial advice (of course!) but it provides a good basis to a sound understanding. 

As medical students and future doctors though, our personal finances will require special care and attention and it’s always best to direct your questions and affairs to a medical financial expert who will understand as much of the financial side as the medical side of your life.

Narnia chronicles by C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I get home and it’s radio static in my brain. I am exhausted but also not ready for sleep. I don’t want to be on my phone and scrolling but I also don’t want to think. I think this is where the beauty of books like Narnia shines. Narnia was one of my favourite childhood series following the adventures of four siblings in a mystical world. Lewis’ writing is simple yet comforting, lyrical yet rhythmic. I love the warmth that the stories exude. I love the mountain tops that characters conquer, and the valleys that one can succumb too. Yet, as with all childhood books, the ending is always filled with joy and contentment having gone through the trials and tribulations.

This is my go to comfort book. Other notable mentions for this spot include Roald Dahl and Tim Winton.

Which one are you going to read first?

And that is it! I hope you can get one of these books in your hand soon and start diving into a world that may not actually be so far away. Stay well and keep on reading.

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