Updated: 14 Physician-Authored Books to Read

9 Physician-Authored Books to Read
14 Physician-Authored Books to Read

In order to be successful doing business with medical professionals, you need to understand the thoughts, feelings, and lives of different types of physicians.  Here are synopses of fourteen books authored by physicians.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndIn his fourth book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande, MD, has ambitiously crafted a historical and narrative account of aging, long-term care, assisted living, and hospice in America. Dr. Gawande covers a broad range of fundamental social issues. One interesting section follows a physician geriatrician who, despite his lifetime of experience treating the elderly, eventually succumbed to physical and cognitive deterioration himself. Click here to read an extended HCTA review of Being Mortal.


Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance: Better is Dr. Atul Gawande’s collection of essays from the New Yorker.  These include very fascinating topics, such as  how a lone physician in Cleveland pushed the treatment standards for cystic fibrosis forward by leaps and bounds, the story of a physician that left private practice to become a malpractice attorney, and a first-hand account of how the World Health Organization deploys thousands of people it does not directly employ to perform a ring immunization on a moment’s notice.


 County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public HospitalCounty retells the story of Dr. David Ansell’s career at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the quintessential story for all safety net hospitals in the U.S.  Dr. Ansell covers Cook County’s struggles with un-insured patient dumping by other hospitals, underfunding, understaffing, facility shortcomings, and constant battles with the political bureaucracy of the county government and the hospital administration.


Doctors: The History of Scientific Medicine Revealed Through Biography (audiobook): The author of How We Die, Dr. Sherwin Nuland, also recorded this lecture on the history of the medical profession from the emergence of the original Hippocratic physicians.  This lecture covers medicine from the middle ages, through the discovery of germ theory, to the development of antiseptic techniques, and the development of anesthesia and modern surgery.


God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine: Dr. Victoria Sweet tells a remarkable story about the last almshouse in the United States—Laguna Honda Hospital in California.  Unlike the fast-paced, never-ending line of fire drills to which we’re accustomed, Dr. Sweet tells about the patients receiving slow, whole-hearted treatment that can only be found at Laguna Honda.  Hearing her unique viewpoint, it is difficult to argue her assertion that the soulful art of medicine is slowing being replaced with the systematic administration of healthcare.


Healing Hearts (reprinted as Heart Matters): A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon:  Dr. Kathy Magliato brings a fresh female perspective to the dynamic field of cardiac and transplant surgery.  Dr. Magliato is one of 180 women to ever become board-certified to perform cardiothoracic surgery.  Magliato explains her process of mentally and emotionally putting on her “full metal jacket” during surgery, the stressful demands of transplanting hearts between patients within a 4 hour time window, and cautionary tales to women on the very real risks of death from heart disease.


How Doctors Think: Dr. Jerome Groopman makes a thoughtful analysis of the cognitive processes used by physicians to diagnose and treat disease.  Groopman boldly analyzes the many biases affecting physicians’ diagnosis of disease, and presents a fascinating comparison of the effectiveness of technological diagnosis algorithms to the abilities of human physicians.  Perhaps his most interesting story is his tale of visiting several different orthopedic surgeons for the same injury, and comparing their conflicting assessments, approaches, and treatments to the same patient and affliction.


Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation:  Cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar recounts his residency training in New York City in this raw, emotional journal of events.  Unlike other texts, Dr. Jauhar’s journal keeps vivid details of the day-to-day events of inpatient rounding, night shift, and ICU rotations.  All the while, Dr. Jauhar is fighting with himself to find some semblance of purpose and meaning in his imminent new career, while trying to juggle relationships with his parents, his girlfriend, and his peers.  His ICU rotation is particularly intense.  Some of these stories will stay with you for days.


Monday Mornings: A Novel (fictional): Though fictional, the novelization of CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s short-lived TNT television show is an entertaining and edgy humanization of the medical staff of a modern teaching hospital.  If you find the other books on this list to perhaps be too dry, Monday Mornings is a good way to transition you from the personal drama of television’s Grey’s Anatomy to non-fiction medical literature.


One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of MedicineIn One Doctor, Brendan Reilly, MD, recounts his 40 year career as a primary care internist turned hospitalist. In many respects, Dr. Reilly’s story closely follows changes in the American medical profession during the last 40 years. Like many of his predecessors, Dr. Reilly paints a picture of a proud profession of human beings who dare to beat back death itself.  Far from the ivory tower of policymakers and payors, a bold few struggle in the trenches against daily chaos, flawed systems, and their own imperfections to care for the sickest of the sick. At 464 pages, One Doctor provides readers with a valuable glimpse into passing generation of medicine that has elapsed since Dr. Reilly entered the profession in 1973. Click here to read an extended HCTA review of One Doctor.


Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain DiseaseDr. Ropper has crafted a fascinating account of many truly peculiar neurology cases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  Ropper uses an Alice in Wonderland metaphor throughout the book, which plays well with his patients’ strange behavior. Ropper describes several cases of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Guillain-Barré syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. Reading real stories about normal people with these diseases forces readers to ask themselves very personal questions about what they would be willing to endure themselves. Questions like ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and ‘What does it mean to be alive?’ become very pertinent for fully aware ALS patients who are physically paralyzed in their bodies without the ability to move, speak, or even breath on their own. Click here to read an extended HCTA review of Down the Rabbit Hole.


Shrinks: The Untold Story of PsychiatryIn Shrinks, the former president of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, pulls no punches while taking a hard look at the history of the psychiatry profession. The term psychiatry was in fact coined in 1808 by Dr. Johann Reil and literally means medical treatment of the soul.  A core theme throughout Dr. Lieberman’s book is the ongoing struggle of psychiatry, as a profession, to develop a generally accepted definition of mental illness that distinguishes the difference between medical diseases and non-medical conditions. Lieberman openly discusses his firsthand experience with such misunderstood treatments as electroconvulsive therapy, while also daring to wade deep into his profession’s past failings to discuss Wilhelm Reich, pyrotherapy, and lobotomies. Click here to read an extended HCTA review of Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry.


The Cleveland Clinic WayCleveland Clinic’s CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove extensively covers the unique organization and function of their not-for-profit, multi-specialty group practice.  Dr. Cosgrove discusses several unique patient cases clearly demonstrating that cross-disciplinary collaboration flourishes within large multi-specialty groups. Other fascinating topics include the Clinic’s own employee wellness program, the Clinic’s successes in developing and commercializing intellectual property and processes, and the new role of genetic testing in custom-tailored medicine.  Dr. Cosgrove gets high marks for publicly acknowledging the Cleveland Clinic’s few shortcomings and promising to improve on them.


What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine: Dr. Danielle Ofri shines a bright light on some of the ongoing struggles and triumphs physicians face on a daily basis in primary care and hospital-based medicine.  She covers topics including career disillusionment, difficulty empathizing with patients, personality differences between specialists and generalists, and the frustrating inability to create population health improvements under pay-for-performance standards.  In one instance, Ofri does an excellent job articulating the struggle of trying to make sense out of a patient’s vague sea of unrelated symptoms when an appointment is only 20 minutes long and the patient scores every symptom a “10 out of 10” in terms of severity.