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Lucy Medicine DoS, Christopher Fowell and Dr Chloë Gamlin, graduate student provide an inspiring book-list

Dr Chloë Gamlin (Foundation Year 1 Doctor and Lucy Cavendish College graduate) and Mr Christopher Fowell (Fellow & Director of Studies, Lucy Cavendish College) have compiled a list of excellent books to read ahead of medical school applications, starting medical school, or simply for some distraction during lockdown and rescheduled examinations!

Whether you’re currently studying medicine or if you’re considering applying for medical school, we realise that alongside all the revision, exam stress, application forms, personal statements etc….. you probably don’t feel like reading anything else! However, you might want some different material to help you realise why you’ve chosen this career path  - it can be good to hear from others that have come out the other side! 

Please let us know your thoughts and your own reviews

@cjfowell_omfs @gamlinchloe @LucyCavColl

Chloë’s Recommendations:

  • Atul Gawande – Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, Being Mortal

Atul Gawande is an American surgeon and Professor of Health Policy who has written several influential books on the philosophy of medicine and medical practice. Complications discusses the various challenges faced by surgeons and the errors it is possible to make, while Better details the values of diligence, doing right and ingenuity, which Gawande understands as crucial for success in medicine. The Checklist Manifesto was a bestseller, discussing the importance of careful preparation – relevant for medicine and the wider world alike! 

  • Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings

Oliver Sacks was a neurologist, who compiled books based on the patients he treated during his career in the US. Awakenings documents the patients recovering from a sleeping sickness in the Bronx in the 1920s, and the use of the then novel treatment levodopa, while The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a compilation of 24 essays dealing with a range of different aspects of brain function. Oliver Sacks was one of the most prolific and engaging medical writers of his generation, as his books offer a great level of detail on both the conditions, and, crucially, the experiences of the patients in coping with them. Highly recommended. 

  • Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett - The Spirit Level

Written by epidemiologists, The Spirit Level convincingly argues that equality really is better for everyone. They describe unequal societies as dysfunctional, highlighting the very real impact inequality has on both physical and mental health. Sweden is examined as an example of a healthier society, while the Cuban health paradox is cited as evidence for the impact of relative income equality on improving health at a population level. This book sits alongside seminal works by Sir Michael Marmot such as Status Syndrome and The Health Gap, which are also highly recommended reading on the social context of health and disease.

  • Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air

This book is an extremely moving first person account of facing one's own mortality. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. He died, aged 37, while still writing his book. It is beautifully written; reflective and deeply personal, it forces one to confront difficult ideas about mortality. Essential reading for any aspiring or current medical student.

Christopher’s Recommendations:

  • Ben Goldacre – Bad Science

I like some satire and humour in my reads, and this provides a serious but light-hearted opinion on the scientific research methods and their discoveries that we utilise in our day-to-day practices. Expect a grounding in ‘evidence-based medicine’, the mysteries of ‘blinding’ and that “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not data”!

The book discusses the ‘Bad Science’ that we are bombarded with in the media and advertising and why we are so gullible. Understanding research and its results is an essential component of a medical career and this book presents the subject in a hilarious and informative manner. Highly recommended for any current or aspiring medic. 

  • Samuel Shen – House of God 

Written by a psychiatrist in the 1970’s and something I would consider a forerunner to ‘This Is Going To Hurt’.  An extremely satirical, comical read based on accounts of a junior doctor working in the fictional ‘House of God’ hospital and the people he meets working there.  One of the most enjoyable elements are the list of rules and jargon, with an example being:

LOL in NAD - ("little old lady in no apparent distress" – an elderly patient who following a minor fall or illness, would be better served by staying at home with good social support, rather than being admitted into a hospital with all the iatrogenic risks of modern medicine)”.

As you develop experience, you will realise just how many of these fictional terms are actually true(ish)! 

  • Henry Marsh – Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

The themes that Henry Marsh discusses are relevant to all medical practitioners and aspiring doctors., in particular living with responsibility and inadvertent outcomes.  All doctors make decisions regarding “the lesser of two evils” every day and the consequences of these decisions are explored in detail.

However, this is not a depressing, gloomy read. The book reveals the wonder felt by a surgeon on being given the gift of permission to operate on a patient.  Many chapters describe, in intricate and fascinating detail, the triumphs of a career in surgery and healthcare.