Medicine Reading List – Best books for Medical Students

A lot of wider reading around your chosen subject is a huge part of many successful university applications, especially when applying to the top universities. As such, many prospective students may choose to read a few books that they can discuss in their personal statement, or in the case of medics, in the interview. Mentioning a book in your personal statement means that you can expect to be asked about it in the interview, so it’s worth making notes on interesting points within the book and researching around the topics you enjoyed reading about. But, how do you choose which books are worth reading? That’s what I’m hoping to help you out with. These are my top picks for a prospective Medical student:

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi
Most people who have read this book will tell you that it is one of the best books they have ever read. I agreed with this statement completely. It is an account of Stanford English literature student turned neurosurgeon who develops lung cancer just before finishing his residency. And there are some incredible quotes, such as:

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”

Do No Harm is the ‘classic medical applicant book’. It is similar to When Breath Becomes Air in that it tells stories of life and death from a neurosurgeon’s perspective, but without the author himself suffering from a terminal illness. Nevertheless, it shows the nitty-gritty, bloody side of surgery.

“Life without hope is hopelessly difficult but at the end hope can so easily make fools of us all.”

‘Junk DNA’ by Nessa Carey
This book is much more ‘academic’. As the title suggests, it describes the various functions of Junk DNA, described as the ‘dark matter of the genome’. Nessa Carey’s writing really makes the book sound less like a textbook and much more ‘fun’ using interesting analogies and humour. I learned a lot from reading this book, a lot of which I don’t think I ever would have come across otherwise. At times, there is a lot of very biological terminology and it can be hard to follow, but overall I really enjoyed this book.

‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre
Bad Science is a really interesting look into the reality of public health and how people (and A LOT of them) get science – especially medicine and nutrition – completely wrong. It also highlights just how much people believe when complicated scientific words are used. This book is actually on a lot of the Medical Reading Lists provided by universities, so it is definitely worth the read.

Although I haven’t read this book myself, Fragile Lives has been recommended to me many times by teachers and various family members. The book is written by a heart surgeon and one of his most memorable cases. This book, just like When Breath Becomes Air and Do No Harm, discusses the fine line between life and death, as well as what it is like having so much control over that balance. On top of being extremely interesting, it is also very technical, meaning that you learn a lot from it – mostly about the heart.

In my opinion, this is another ‘must-read’ book for medicine applicants. Medical ethics is not only a vital topic for the interviews, but also for the entirety of a doctor’s career. As quoted on Amazon, the answers questions such as the following:

  • Who should have access to reproductive technology? Who should pay? 
  • Is it right to fund expensive drug treatment for individuals? 
  • Should active euthanasia be legalized? 
  • Should treatment for mental illness be imposed on patients without their consent? 
  • Who should have access to information from genetic testing? 
  • Should we require consent for the use of dead bodies or organs in medical research?

These are the books that I have read or been recommended by others, but of course there are plenty of other amazing books that you could discuss. Others that are on my reading list include: The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey, The Vital Questions by Nick Lane, The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman and Adventures of Human Being by Gavin Francis.

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