“We live and breathe words.” This is perhaps one of my favorite quotes from a book series I adored years ago. While these words were used in a different context in the book, I’d like to interpret it in a different way that’s relevant to this article. If you’re an avid book reader like I am, you understand that books have a powerful way of influencing us.
I plan on becoming a healthcare professional in the future, and a field like that requires more than just technical skills. Being a healthcare professional means learning how to empathize with your patients who come from all backgrounds and that there’s more to medicine than just prolonging life and curing people.
In this article, I’ve made four book recommendations that have truly changed my outlook on the healthcare field, and I hope they will also prepare you to become a well-rounded, conscientious healthcare professional as much as they did for me.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Number of Pages: 287 (paperback)
Medicine has come a long way throughout history. Modern medicine has made the dangers of birth, injury and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. While this is certainly a good thing compared to the alternative, it has also caused a significant shift in how we view aging and death.
Aging and death are inescapable realities for everyone, yet all of the innovations and breakthroughs made in modern medicine often counter these realities instead of doing what they should be doing beyond ensuring one’s survival. Nursing homes pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs, preoccupied with their safety. Hospitals are isolating the dying, checking for vital signs even long after the goals of cure have become moot.
Doctors continue to carry out procedures and treatments that, in the short-term, extend life — by a few more weeks, months, years — but ultimately end up extending suffering. In this book, Gawande provides eye-opening research and gripping anecdotes of his patients and family to brilliantly illustrate and reveal the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.
When I was reading it, to say I was glued to the pages for days is a major understatement. Gawande has a way of keeping you attached to what he’s saying, and his riveting anecdotes were relevant to his message, which is both raw and honest. I had never considered the idea of how modern medicine is now primarily utilized to increase the longevity of one’s life, and not so much about increasing the quality of one’s life before meeting the inevitable that is aging and death.
This book taught me so much about the concept of mortality and how we often do not think of it until it happens randomly and suddenly — whether it’s experiencing a death of a loved one or being diagnosed with a crippling (or even terminal) illness. We’ve lost sight of the ultimate goal, which is not a good death but a good life—all the way to the very end.
You can read some of Gawande’s other books which are equally (if not more) amazing, such as Better, Complications, and The Checklist Manifesto.
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
Number of Pages: 303 (paperback)
This book beautifully and tragically chronicles the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of a young Hmong child named Lia Lee, who was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy named Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Both her parents and her doctors want what is best for Lia, but there is a lack of understanding between the two groups that ultimately led to tragedy.
This book is notable for changing how doctors see themselves and how they see their patients. Fadiman beautifully celebrates the complexity and the individuality of the human interactions that make up the practice of medicine while also pointing out directions for change in the field and breaking hearts with the tragedies of cultural displacement, medical limitations and futile good intentions.
As said by Sherwin B. Nuland from the magazine The New Republic, “…People are presented as [Fadiman] saw them, in their humility and their frailty—and their nobility.”
This book simultaneously broke my heart while opening my eyes to the problems that come about in the interactions between cultural barriers, miscommunication and the American health system. The dichotomy between the Hmong’s perceived spiritual factors and the Americans’ perceived scientific factors comprises the overall theme of the book.
Fadiman’s book is ideal for anyone who is looking to understand the reality and presence of cultural differences in American medicine, and potentially learn how to overcome such barriers and understand cultural competence to meet the collective goal of healing.
- Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century by Dorothy Roberts
Number of Pages: 312 (paperback)
Fatal Invention is a groundbreaking book that examines how the myth of the biological concept of race—which has also been revived by purportedly cutting-edge science, race-specific drugs, genetic testing and DNA databases—continues to undermine a just society and promote inequality in a supposedly “post-racial” era.
This is a very timely book recommendation, considering we’ve encountered one of the most historical and significant periods in our lifetimes regarding racial relations and the presence of race and racism in not just our day-to-day lives but also in our own systems.
Fatal Invention explores the concept of race with its provocative analysis, discussing how race first emerged and how it has permeated into almost every aspect of society until it becomes what it is today. The book also goes into topics relevant to the healthcare field such as racial profiling in the doctor’s office, the source of health disparities, how inequality is bad for your health and pharmacoethnicity (which is ethnic diversity in drug response or toxicity).
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in understanding the intersectionality of social categorizations, especially race, in the field of medicine, science, politics and business in the 21st century.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
Number of Pages: 253 (hardcover)
The formation of healthy habits is crucial, especially if you’re going into a rigorous, time-consuming field such as healthcare. If you’ve ever struggled with forming healthy habits, Atomic Habits is the go-to book that offers a framework for getting 1% better every day.
From this book, I’ve learned that my personal struggles with changing habits are not actually my fault—the problem lies with my systems. The reason why bad habits stay is that they repeat themselves in the wrong system for change, and not necessarily because I don’t want to change.
One of my favorite quotes from this book is: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
James Clear draws concepts from biology, psychology and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. He also uses relevant anecdotes to connect to his message, which I enjoy—no effective how-to guide is good without a funny or inspiring story to go with it (in my opinion).
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a guide to change their lives effectively, one atomic habit at a time.
- No Apparent Distress by Rachel Pearson, M.D.
- Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy, M.D.
- Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl
- Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality by Pauline W. Chen
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Other Related Book Recommendations:
This wraps up my four book recommendations for future healthcare professionals! Each of these books provides unique anecdotes, effective advice and eye-opening experiences that I believe will shape you into a well-rounded, conscientious healthcare professional in the future.