10 popular self-help books every doctor should read

By John Murphy
Published November 5, 2020

Key Takeaways

Doctors spend their lives helping others, but who helps them? Friends and family offer the greatest support, but sometimes that’s just not enough when doctors need certain answers—especially when they have big questions about life. That’s where self-help books can come in handy.

Then again, some doctors don’t so much need help (as in throwing them a life preserver) as they do assistance (a guide to show them the way). So, you might also find these books in the “self-improvement” section of the bookstore (if you still have a bookstore near you).

Whether you call them “self-help” or “self-improvement” books, there are a million of them out there. Frankly, most just aren’t worth your time and money. But there are a few pearls to be found hidden among all those clams, and some of these books may be especially valuable or resonant to doctors. To that end, here’s our list of informative books that every doctor should consider reading.

(Disclosure: The following post includes purchase recommendations and uses affiliate links to Amazon products, allowing MDLinx to receive commission for purchases. All suggestions are our own.)

Outliers: The Story of Success


Malcolm Gladwell

Who are the “outliers”—the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful—and what makes them different from everyone else? In this book, Gladwell points out that when we seek to follow in the footsteps of successful people, we often forget to look at where those winners started—notably, their family, their culture, their generation, and the unique experiences of their upbringing. Like everyone, physicians are prone to credit their success to their own achievements, but is that an accurate assessment?

“It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf,” Gladwell writes. “It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

Read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Rich Dad, Poor Dad 

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Robert T. Kiyosaki

The subtitle to this book is “What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!” But doctors of any social class may find this book enlightening. Kiyosaki explains that he had two dads—his real father who had trouble making ends meet and his rich “dad,” the multimillionaire father of his best friend. He learns from them that you can either work for your money or make your money work for you.

“When I first read the book [as a budding entrepreneur], I primarily liked how Kiyosaki viewed the world from a different perspective. It got me to think differently about my business and investing than I had previously,” wrote Larry Ludwig—an entrepreneur, tech, and digital marketing guru—in a book review on InvestorJunkie.com.

Read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for the Helping Professions


Thomas M. Skovholt and Michelle Trotter-Mathison

Though it’s written by scholars and it looks like a textbook, The Resilient Practitioner is an accessible, practical workbook to help healthcare providers strike a balance between caring for others and caring for themselves.

In one of the book’s many acclamations, Julie Koch, PhD, associate professor and training director in the counseling psychology doctoral program at Oklahoma State University, wrote: “As a practitioner in private practice, I frequently turn to this book for reminders of how to persist despite the demands of psychologically taxing work. As a professor and supervisor, I frequently refer students to this book so that they can learn how to engage in self-care in a systematic, thoughtful way. The Resilient Practitioner should be required reading for students and should be on the bookshelf of all practitioners in the helping fields such as health care, education, and social work.”

Read The Resilient Practitioner by Thomas M. Skovholt and Michelle Trotter-Mathison

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World

Make your bed

Admiral William H. McRaven (Ret.)

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” This was the basis for the author’s inspiring graduation speech that went viral on the internet. In Make Your Bed, Adm. McRaven expands on ten principles that he learned as a Navy Seal, which helped him overcome challenges in both his Naval career and in his life.

“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” Adm. McRaven said in his speech. “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

A review in The Wall Street Journal recommended that this powerful little book “should be read by every leader in America.”

Read Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven (Ret.)

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Win Friends

Dale Carnegie

Don’t be misled by the “clickbait” title of this long-standing bestseller. This is a how-to book about getting people on your side without commanding or tricking them to do so. It’s full of folksy wisdom that is so obvious that we often forget to employ it in our day-to-day lives.

Carnegie writes: “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person's precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

He adds: “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

And there’s plenty more where that came from. You can see why the book has had such wide appeal ever since it was first published in 1936.

Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

4 agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz

Call it ancient wisdom or New Age enlightenment—whatever you call it, no one can deny that The Four Agreements has been a bestselling juggernaut for more than a decade and inspired millions of people worldwide. Written by an actual shaman and based on teachings from his Toltec ancestors, the book explains that all of us make agreements with ourselves and with the world around us. But sometimes the agreements we make are self-defeating and cause unhappiness. Ruiz argues that we can make new, beneficial agreements with ourselves that create happiness and improve our wellbeing.

These four beneficial agreements are [spoiler alert!]: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.

Although these agreements are simple to understand, they’re very difficult to put into practice in life. “It’s the how and why one should do these things that make The Four Agreements worth reading and remembering,” according to Amazon.com’s review.

Read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz



Marcus Aurelius

Speaking of ancient wisdom, how about a few insights and life lessons from Marcus Aurelius, Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor? (For a visual reminder, Marcus Aurelius was played by Richard Harris in the movie Gladiator, with Russell Crowe.) Meditations is a compendium of private notes, ideas, and advice that Marcus Aurelius wrote as reminders to himself about how to live with less worry, cope with adversity, and interact with others. Check out these nuggets of wisdom:

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”

“How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks.”

Meditations offers time-tested insight for philosophers and physicians alike.

Read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Power of Positive Thinking


Norman Vincent Peale

Physicians know well the power of positive thinking. As just one example, a well-publicized study in The American Journal of Cardiology showed that people with a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event compared with those with a more negative outlook.

Of course, people who are in the midst of a heart attack can’t just “think positive thoughts” and wish it away. But in this hugely popular self-help classic, Peale affirmed that the power of positive thinking could give readers more satisfaction with life. Like some of the other books on this list, this book’s lessons are childishly simple to learn, but perplexingly difficult to implement. Peale recommends suggestions such as “Picture yourself succeeding” and “Think a positive thought to drown out a negative thought.” The book also relies heavily on Christian beliefs—if one has faith, God will help things work out.

When it was first published in 1952, the book received negative reviews from health experts, theologians, and academics. This hasn’t dampened its popularity through the years, though, and the book’s positive message continues to inspire people today. 

Read The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

Man’s Search for Meaning 

Mans search

Victor Frankl

First published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning has inspired millions with its story of struggle and survival. The book is written in two parts. The first half is Frankl’s harrowing autobiographical chronicle of life (and death) in a series of Nazi concentration camps. In the second half, Frankl explains how—and more importantly, why—he managed to endure his inhumane ordeal. Because he found meaning in his life, the concentration camps could torture him but never defeat his spirit.

In the foreword to the book, Harold S. Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People) wrote: “I have known people who rose to the challenge of enduring the most terrible afflictions and situations as long as they believed there was a point to their suffering. Whether it was a family milestone they wanted to live long enough to share or the prospect of doctors finding a cure by studying their illness, having a Why to live enabled them to bear the How.”

Read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

7 habits

Stephen R. Covey

After 30 years in print, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 40 million copies and is regarded as one of the most influential books on business. Using perceptive insights and practical anecdotes, the book advises readers to solve personal and professional problems using basic human principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and dignity.

“This book…opened the eyes of the world to a liberating truth: that our mind-sets play strange tricks on us. We are poor if we think we are poor. Dr. Covey taught that the key to changing our lives is to change the mind-set about ourselves—to realize that we are each incalculably rich in potential and possibilities,” wrote Muhammad Yunus, the “Banker to the Poor” and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

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