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Five Books to Read as a Premed 

Books To Read as a Premed

Regular reading is essential to becoming an effective student, doctor, and individual. Books can help introduce you to the reality of what it means to practice medicine. This will enhance your clinical experiences, patient care, and your performance in medical school. Learning more about your future career will inspire you and motivate you to keep pushing during the difficulties of applying to medical school. It is a great way to both destress and strengthen your medical school application, because interviewers often ask about books you have read recently. Here we’ve picked five less commonly known books to read as a premed! These books offer different perspectives on medicine, from unthinkable ethical dilemmas to the importance of justice for vulnerable patients. Check out our must-reads for hopeful doctors:

5. “No Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine” by Rachel Pearson, MD.

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop

Dr. Pearson describes her experiences at her medical school’s free clinic as she discovers the inequities and challenges of the U.S. healthcare system and the complex roles that medical students play. As the only safety net clinic in the area, the free clinic saw mostly poor, incarcerated, Black, and Latino patients facing barriers to medical care. In contrast to wealthier clinics that she rotated through, at the free clinic Dr. Pearson observed the effects of poverty, lack of insurance, and racial bias on medical treatment and survival. She had to come to terms with her personal responsibility for the effects of her own mistakes on patient care and unfortunately even survival. The book discusses the struggle between the urge to provide basic compassion for patients versus providing care via an emotional distance, the way she was taught in medical school. As Dr. Pearson realized that medical students themselves provided the safety net for their patients, she struggled with the challenges of having to diagnose patients at the free clinic but not being able to ensure their proper treatment. She pondered whether free clinics exist for the benefit of medical students at the expense of resource-deprived patients. The book raises ethical questions of the fairness of medical training at the expense of patient care when students learn on the bodies of primarily poor and disenfranchised patients. As a medical student, you will encounter many of the same dilemmas as Dr. Pearson did as you begin your healthcare career, and this book will help prepare you for your clinical years and beyond.

4. “Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century” edited by Alice Wong

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop

One in four Americans has a disability, but disabled people are often written off by the medical system. In a series of essays, seventeen authors with various disabilities describe their experiences with ableism, inequity, challenges, and triumphs. In medicine disabled people are often viewed as problems or abnormalities in need of fixing. The various authors–including a scientist and medical provider– describe the isolation and disenfranchisement they face due to such misconceptions. One author describes the medical discrimination he faced while incarcerated. A healthcare provider describes the experience of becoming a patient in their own hospital. The authors discuss health disparities, medical neglect and abuse, and discrimination they have faced. This book raises questions about the role that physicians can play in disability justice. Caring for disabled patients is glossed over in most medical school curriculums, but is an essential component of real-life medical practice. An understanding of disability in the context of social conditions that exclude and stigmatize disabled patients will help you provide equitable care to your patients with disabilities.

3. “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink, MD PhD.

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop

This book chronicles the life-and-death decisions made at a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina, raising questions of ethical decision-making and medical resource allocation during desperate circumstances. The hospital was flooded and lost its power, leaving thousands trapped inside, hoping for evacuation. Without essential medical care and with no emergency plan for such a disaster, staff decided to evacuate patients who had “Do Not Resuscitate” (D.N.R.) orders last. (D.N.R. means that a patient whose heartbeat or breathing has stopped cannot be revived.) Some staff administered a lethal dose of morphine to severely ill patients, believing they would not survive. Overall, 45 patients died before evacuation. Twenty were found with high doses of morphine and several healthcare providers were tried for murder. How do we make difficult medical decisions in impossible circumstances? An understanding of medical ethics is an essential part of being a physician and you will learn about this topic repeatedly through medical school. Issues of resource allocation, and legal accountability for such decisions are all relevant to your future medical career.

2. “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” by Harriet Washington

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Available at Amazon and Bookshop

What is the history behind health disparities in Black patients and what role does medicine play? In the 1800s prominent scientists developed the theory of eugenics, which claimed that humans could be improved through selective breeding. This was rooted in slavery and the idea that the white race was superior to others and it was popularized by Charles Darwin and other notable figures. Scientists and doctors conducted experiments on Black people and other eugenically undesirable groups to support their theories. For example, the “father of gynecology” James Marion Sims operated without anesthesia on enslaved women. Doctors robbed the graves of Black people to conduct autopsies. In the Tuskegee study, Black people were inoculated with syphilis without their knowledge. Black patients were injected with foreign substances to test their effects on the human body. Incarcerated Black women were forcibly sterilized. Despite advances in genomics research showing that in-group racial differences exceed cross-race differences, eugenics ideas are still prevalent today in medicine. For example, many medical studies treat race as genetic rather than as a social construct. Studies have shown that medical students believe Black people feel less pain than white people. This is essential reading for medical students in order to understand past and current injustices, medical misconceptions, medical mistrust, and advocate for your patients. 

1. “In The Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom” by Qanta Ahmed MD.

Amazon

Available at Amazon and Bookshop

What is the relationship between religion, medicine, and justice? In her memoir Dr. Qanta Ahmed describes the two years she spent practicing pulmonology in Saudi Arabia, where she was required to observe the same laws as Saudi women, and her adjustment to these rules while practicing medicine. As a Muslim doctor who studied in Britain and the US, Dr. Ahmed discovered the often-hidden realities of life for women in a Saudi Arabian city and rediscovered her own spirituality. She faced many limitations in her personal life under Saudi law but new opportunities as a physician. Dr. Ahmed describes the contradictions of treating women patients whose faces are required to be covered at all times during pulmonary procedures. Working with female and male physicians in an otherwise gender-segregated society challenged her professional values and beliefs. She sees the benefits that she and her fellow women doctors bring to medicine in this environment. She goes on a religious journey of her own. Caring for “invisible women” and living under the same laws, Dr. Ahmed discovered a new power in her ability to heal patients. As medical students, many of us are religious but are not given a context for religion in medical practice. This book will help you understand the role that physicians take in balancing religion and medicine. 

As a premed student, reading a book is a valuable opportunity to take a break from the stresses of all your activities. As you already know, medicine is not always simple and satisfactory and has not always been so in the past. These books will help you learn more and prepare to become a better physician. A lot of these topics are not taught in medical school. But the topics in these books such as the history of medicine, challenges you will face, and importance of being an advocate for your patients are all essential to becoming a good physician.

 

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