Summer reading list: 5 must-read books for residents

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published July 17, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • When training gets tough, residents can turn to books about the residency experience to feel a sense of solidarity.

  • Sandeep Jauhar’s Intern is an accessible read that may help you navigate the beginnings of residency. Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, on the other hand, gives you permission to laugh—and cry—at the challenges associated with being a junior doctor.

  • Both fiction and nonfiction books can be both entertaining and informative. While fictional books about residency tend to focus on a character’s journey through training, nonfiction books are more likely to share the stories of historical figures with noteworthy pasts. 

Congratulations! You graduated from medical school, earned your degree, and now you’ve got a white coat of your own. You’re officially a resident doctor.

Although residency can be a thrilling new chapter during which you’ll bridge the gap between theory and praxis, it can also pose challenges that may feel isolating, according to an article by Doximity.[]

But you don’t have to go through it alone. For those who like to get lost in a good book, MDLinx has compiled a list of five books all about residency that offer support, solace, and solidarity for the resident experience. 

Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation

Kicking off this list is an early, hidden gem written by Sandeep Jauhar, MD, best known for his two later works, Doctored and Heart: A History, as noted by the Doximity authors.

Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation explores Dr. Jauhar’s transformative experience in residency at a busy New York City hospital, where he learned that the medical profession wasn’t as patient-centered as he initially thought.[]

Amid his efforts to bring the focus back to the patient, Dr. Jauhar himself became ill.

This experience revealed to him that the high-pressure field of medicine is capable of humanity after all.

“In Jauhar’s wise memoir of his two-year ordeal of doubt and sleep deprivation at a New York hospital,” a TIME magazine review said, “he takes readers to the heart of every young physician’s hardest test: to become a doctor yet remain a human being.”

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor

To balance out the hardships of residency with some laughter (and some angst), we recommend Adam Kay, MD’s This is Going to Hurt.[]

Dr. Kay’s 2017 memoir chronicles his experience as a junior doctor in the UK, where he endured 97-hour work weeks and dealt with a “constant tsunami of bodily fluids,” according to the jacket copy. His writing is refreshingly candid, and he’s not afraid to share the disillusionment that comes with making literal life-or-death decisions while being paid less than the hospital parking-meter maid.

A Sunday Times bestseller for over a year, This is Going to Hurt is hilarious and heartbreaking, featuring tales from Dr. Kay’s residency that garnered enough attention to sell over two million copies. 

A History of Present Illness

Third on our list of books about res-life is a 2022 novel by Anna DeForest, MD, MFA.[]

Described as “a revelation” by The New York Times, A History of Present Illness delves into the life of a young woman who is just embarking on her residency journey.

The reader follows the unnamed protagonist as she navigates many medical “firsts,” which include a cadaver dissection, surgical rotations, challenging births, and, of course, death.

Through the physical and emotional trials and tribulations of her first year of residency, the young protagonist finds that life as a physician forces her to confront past traumas.

Booklist called Dr. DeForest’s novel "brutal and brave.” 

"DeForest's novel is one of the best in the ‘making of a doctor’ genre. And its plucky protagonist, casualty and hero, roars a universal truth, ‘We all hurt.’"


Twice As Hard: The Stories of Black Women Who Fought to Become Physicians, from the Civil War to the 21st Century

A nonfiction pick, medical student Jasmine Brown's Twice As Hard explores the untold stories of nine pioneering Black female physicians and their indelible mark on American history.[]

While not strictly focused on residency, Brown’s work explains how each of these women built careers for themselves despite the significant roadblocks set up for historically marginalized communities in the US.

Twice As Hard hones in on the stories of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who provided care to formerly enslaved people after graduating medical school just 14 months after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, as well as Dr. Edith Irby Jones and Dr. Joycelyn Elders, both of whom paved the way for Black women like Brown to pursue medicine.

In its description of the book, Beacon Press praises Brown, stating, “What she uncovers about these women’s struggles, their need to work twice as hard and be twice as good, and their ultimate success serves as instruction and inspiration for new generations considering a career in medicine or science.”

From Residency to Retirement: Physicians' Careers over a Professional Lifetime (Critical Issues in Health and Medicine)

Our final pick is a book that covers residency and what comes next.

Terry Mizrahi’s From Residency to Retirement looks at 20 physicians’ careers over the last 50 years—a time during which the US healthcare system underwent major change.[]

Mizrahi conducted a total of six interviews with each profiled physician at different points throughout their careers, including during medical school and residency in the mid-1970s.

The physicians touch on everything from dissatisfaction with compensation to intellectual fulfillment in their careers, providing an intimate look at the highest highs and lowest lows that doctors can face mentally.

"This is a wonderful, unique book because it spans almost forty years in the careers of a group of physicians,” wrote Oliver Fein, MD, Weill Cornell Medical College, in a review on the publisher’s site. “As a physician still in clinical practice, whose career evolved during the same period covered by these interviews, the book evoked some deep reflection on my own career.”

What this means for you

You don’t have to endure the complex journey of residency alone. You can lean on the works of residents past and future to cultivate a sense of solidarity throughout this new chapter. For more titles like these, just head to your local library, and remember—residency may not be easy, but you are not alone in your struggles, and like so many others, you will get through it.

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