5 books every doctor should read this summer

By Alistair Gardiner
Published June 25, 2021

Key Takeaways

The daily grind of medicine can be overwhelming. But summer is here, and pandemic travel restrictions are easing up. Perhaps you have a vacation in the offing, or at least a staycation? Either way, there’s no better time than now to dive into a good book.

If you’re still undecided on your summer reading list, here are five must-read books for any physician interested in the philosophies, broader contexts of medicine, and the future of the profession.

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

Unaccountable, by Marty Makary, MD

Unaccountable, by Marty Makary

Marty Makary, MD, is a Johns Hopkins surgeon who has worked at some of the best hospitals in the world. When he’s not practicing surgical oncology and gastrointestinal laparoscopic surgery, he’s busy writing about some of the mistakes he’s seen other physicians make and the healthcare system’s routine failure to hold them accountable. 

Unaccountable, originally published in 2012, dissects a medical culture that all too often sees surgical sponges left inside patients, the wrong limbs being amputated, and even medication overdoses in children due to poor handwriting on charts, according to a Bloomsbury book review. During the decade leading up to the book’s publication, neither rates of errors nor cost of treatment had dropped, despite medical and scientific advances that should have improved the state of healthcare for patients. 

Makary’s New York Times bestseller is a no-nonsense, bipartisan exploration of a broken healthcare system, which lacks both transparency for patients and accountability for doctors. Unaccountable diagnoses these issues, and posits a route to the kind of reform that would expose dangerous doctors, reward good physician performance, and create real-world change using the forces of the free market. This summer, check out the book that Newsweek called “A startling revelation of the dysfunction deeply embedded in the very culture of American medical practice.”

Read Unaccountable by Marty Makary, MD

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, by Danielle Ofri, MD

What Patients Say

In this modern world of high-tech wizardry and ever-accelerating advancements in the field of medicine, Danielle Ofri, MD, has taken a step back to focus on something far more elemental: the doctor-patient conversation. Ofri considers this to be the single most potent diagnostic tool, but What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear is about what happens when those two things are not congruent, according to a book review on her website.   

Patients are often anxious to ensure their symptoms are acknowledged, but doctors who are under pressure to conduct countless bureaucratic and regulatory tasks are prone to missing key details. Ofri considers all the wrenches that may be thrown in the works, from unconscious bias and conflicting agendas to the fear of lawsuits, any of which can lead to a misdiagnosis or some other serious error. On the flipside, she also writes about how we can refocus these conversations to the benefit of all parties. 

On Dr. Ofri’s website, The Lancet referred to What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear as “humble, entertaining, and insightful,” which should put it right at the top of any doctor’s summer reading list.

Read What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri, MD

Deep Medicine by Eric Topol, MD

Deep Medicine

Eric Topol, MD, a cardiologist, author, and leading advocate for evidence-based decision-making during the pandemic, believes that medicine has become inhuman. In Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, he argues that too much attention to computers and big data has eroded the connection between doctors and patients. But Topol thinks that we’re on the cusp of solving this problem.

Topol’s latest work explores the ways that AI can transform how doctors practice, from record-keeping and medical scans to diagnosis and treatment—and help restore the critical human connection between doctor and patient, according to a book review published by Scripps Research. This, he argues, will ultimately free physicians from the bureaucracy and rote tasks that keep them from focusing primarily on creating a human connection with the patient. 

“One of the most important potential outgrowths of AI in medicine is the gift of time,” Topol writes. “It will take many years for all of this to be actualized, but ultimately it should be regarded as the most extensive transformation in the history of medicine.”

Deep Medicine will leave you convinced that artificial intelligence is the way to reinject humanity into medicine.

Read Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again by Eric Topol, MD

Long Walk Out of the Woods by Adam B. Hill, MD

Long Walk Out of the Woods

Several years ago, Adam B. Hill, MD, a pediatric oncologist and palliative care physician, became disillusioned with medicine. Over time, he spiraled into depression and alcoholism, and eventually made a plan to take his own life. While recovering from his addiction, he lost a colleague to suicide, which only deepened his belief that a broken healthcare system is leading to an epidemic of burnout and physician distress. 

In his new book, Long Walk Out of the Woods: A Physician’s Story of Addiction, Depression, Hope, and Recovery, Hill tells his story with startling candor, pointing out the barriers physicians face in handling their mental health, and laying out a new approach for individuals with substance use disorders. 

In praise for the book on Hill’s website, fellow physician Joseph Maroon, MD, wrote, “Although about addiction and depression, this is a hope-filled book that speaks directly to those overworked, over-committed, and burned out,” adding that the book can be” life-saving.”

Hill’s story has been praised as a roadmap for building better practices at a time when burnout is affecting more medical professionals than ever before. It’s insightful reading for anyone working in medicine today.

Read Long Walk Out of the Woods: A Physician’s Story of Addiction, Depression, Hope, and Recovery by Adam B. Hill, MD

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD

Being Mortal

The history of medicine has seen us slowly conquering formerly incurable diseases, cutting rates of childbirth mortality, and generally pushing aging and death ever further back. But in his 2014 masterwork Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, surgeon and author Atul Gawande, MD, argues that we’ve gone astray. Medicine, he argues, should be focused on well-being, rather than survival.

Gawande’s book illuminates the suffering caused by the relentless battle against our inevitable mortality. With stories about the loss of autonomy experienced in nursing homes and doctors offering false hope to patients, Gawande exposes our failures in trying to fight death—and he argues that we can do much better. 

Described by Malcolm Gladwell as “Atul Gawande’s most powerful—and moving—book,” on Dr. Gawande’s website, Being Mortal argues that, if we can accept death, we may not have to sacrifice as much in life.

To see more recommended reading from MDLinx, check out 4 nonmedical books every doctor should read.< b>Read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, MD

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter