Specialty Profiles

8 great books hand-picked by doctors for your reading list

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

The physician’s day rises and falls with the written word: an unexpected laboratory result, a practice-changing medical journal publication or a news story about a trend affecting patients’ access to care.

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But as the weather warms up and physicians tap into their hard-earned stores of vacation time, there may be an opportunity to dive into some longer and more rewarding reads. Whether physicians, residents or medical students are in search of books to read to relax or learn more about a medical topic, the AMA’s “Shadow Me” Specialty Series—which offers advice directly from physicians about life in their specialties—provides some outstanding nonfiction recommendations.

Here, in alphabetical order by book author, are eight nonfiction books that AMA members who have participated in the “Shadow Me” Specialty Series recommend reading.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

By Anne Fadiman

Family physician Christopher Garofalo, MD, said this book “is an excellent read, focusing on the critical issue of understanding and respecting unfamiliar cultures.”

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande, MD

Being Mortal is a well-researched chronicle of how we die in the U.S. and how people actually want to die when they encounter it. I found it insightful and moving,” said Rambod A. Rouhbakhsh, MD, an academic family physician.

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How Doctors Think

By Jerome Groopman, MD

“This book was recommended by a close mentor of mine and, now that I am practicing, couldn’t have been more accurate,” said Joanne Loethen, MD, an internal medicine and pediatrics specialist. “In it, Dr. Groopman explores the forces and influences behind a doctor’s thought process and exposes how such processes can lead a physician to err, despite our best efforts.”

The book is “an eye-opening account of well-explored research,” she added.

The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine

By James Le Fanu, MD

“This is a great summary of modern medicine from the discovery of penicillin to CRISPR gene editing and where we fall short,” said Devang Sanghavi, MD, a critical care medicine specialist. “For an aspiring physician who may not even be in medical school yet, this can give a lot of good insights into the profession.”

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

By Henry Marsh, MD

Krystal Tomei, MD, MPH, a pediatric neurosurgeon, said this book “gets into the humanity of what we do, and how we handle the outcomes when they aren’t what we were hoping for.”

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

By Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD

Medical oncologist Omar T. Atiq, MD, said “the book takes you through human history in an attempt to understand the disease and shine a light on the resilience of those who have affected its course.”

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Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape

By Peggy Orenstein

Ob-gyn Kimberly D. Warner, MD, said this book “features eye-opening research on how girls from their teens through college are experiencing sex, and it’s disturbing.”

The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health Care System

By David Barton Smith, PhD

Pediatrician Nusheen Ameenuddin, MD, MPH, MPA, recommended this book “because it shows how important and effective federal policy can be in closing gaps and inequities.”

The AMA Specialty Guide simplifies medical students’ specialty selection process, highlights major specialties, details training information, and provides access to related association information. It is produced by FREIDA™, the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database®.