4 must-read healthcare books for this holiday season

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published December 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

A physician’s time and energy are often spent meeting the needs of others. But as 2022 draws to an end, you may want to carve out some time to catch up on your medical reading.

For those who are unsure about what to dive into first, MDLinx has composed a list of four nonfiction books that have made waves in medicine. Whether you’re a seasoned physician dedicated to self-improvement or a resident seeking more experienced perspectives, we’ve got you covered with these important reads.

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

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

In this book, Anne Fadiman tells the tragic story of 3-month-old Lia Lee that shines a light on the impact of cultural differences in medicine.

Lia, the Hmong daughter of refugees fleeing the CIA-run “Quiet War” in Laos, was diagnosed with epilepsy at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, CA.

Despite the common goal between Lia’s parents and doctors—to help Lia recover—both parties saw her illness very differently. Her doctors attributed her seizures to misfired cerebral neurons, while Lia’s parents called her illness qaug dab peg (translation: the spirit catches you and you fall down), a disease caused by the wandering of the soul. 

Lia faced numerous struggles as her doctors and parents clung to their own culturally prescribed ideas of sickness and health. Her story, however, may help physicians reckon with varying cultural landscapes in the exam room.

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

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, MD

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, MD, at age 36 about navigating life and medicine as a neurosurgeon diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

In his book, Dr. Kalanithi reckons with his own mortality, and dares to ask the big questions: What does it mean to be a doctor and a patient? How can one live a virtuous life? What does a meaningful life on Earth look like?

Brent Schnipke, MD, shared how this book has influenced him in an Op-Med.

“[When Breath Becomes Air] contains beautiful and sometimes heart-breaking insights into life, especially a life in medicine,” Dr. Schnipke wrote. “I have since gifted it to several colleagues, and have made a note to re-read it every few years.”

Read When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, MD

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande, MP, MPH

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

In Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande, MP, MPH, balances reflections from his early career with the wisdom he’s earned on the OR floor.

Better is a collection of essays that focus on the ins and outs of surgery—yet the author’s musings manage to touch on core human traits, making this book accessible to doctors of all specialties and beyond.

“Science has brought us thousands of things we can do—and each is very complicated, and most of it resides in the heads of many different people,” Dr. Gawande said in a talk about Better with Publishers Weekly. “We’re in the machine. All we can do is try to think in morally clear terms about our goals and try to be creative.”

Read Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande, MP, MPH

The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing, by James M. Dahle, MD

The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing

Taking a turn from the more philosophical aspects of physicians’ work, this book from James M. Dahle, MD, teaches doctors, residents, dentists, and other healthcare professionals (HCPs) about the many financial elements of the job that medical school fails to cover.

Dahle’s book offers beginner-friendly insights on wealth building, navigating loans, and avoiding scams, among other topics.

From graduating medical school with little to no debt to determining which insurance to purchase, The White Coat Investor offers HCPs countless tips to make the most of their money.

Read The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing, by James M. Dahle, MD

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