Ten Books Prospective Health Students Should Read

Today for Top Ten Tuesday FREEBIE I discuss ten books that I believe everyone hoping to study medicine, nursing, physiotherapy (and so on) should read. Last year I wrote a post about nine things students should do before deciding to study medicine. I also made a list of books for fans of medicine. This new list adds to that.  Most of these books may also appeal to the non-medical reader.


1. Molokai’i by Allan Brennert

Historical fiction based on truth: the story of a seven year old girl in Hawai’i who is sent away to a leper colony after being diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease. It is a great novel for ANYONE, interested in healthcare or not, but it is also important for future healthcare practitioners to understand their role in the creation or abolition of stigma.

2. The Angina Monologues by Rosamund Kendal

Maybe one day I’ll stop raving about these books. But not yet. Kendal illustrates perfectly what it is like working as a junior – in the South African setup, but I think that non-South Africans could also relate to it.

3. Hospital Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

This one is not as funny as the other Babylon books, probably because it has a lot of gore and dying in it. It also focuses on the healthcare professions in the UK. Regardless, it offers useful insights into the less-glamorous aspects of working in the public sector.

4. The Radiation Sonnets: For My Love, in Sickness and in Health by Jane Yolen

It is unlikely that any healthcare practitioner will not have an encounter with a patient and family in the throes of cancer. These sonnets are not only beautiful, but also offer an important glimpse into the life of a family member and caretaker of a patient with cancer. Important lessons can be gleaned here.

vintage rose

5. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

This chronicles the author’s struggle with severe clinical depression. There are many good books on the topic, but this is short and unlikely to plunge the reader into a similar mood. Read it with Rose Styron’s essay about the same topic, Strands.

6. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

One of the wittiest pieces of research I have ever read. This book explores toilets and waste-disposal habits around the world – from the squatting Eastern toilets to Japan’s smart toilets and the evolution of our mundane toilets. George gives a good justification for the importance of this topic. A highly enjoyable book, which offers important insight to the future stakeholders in public health.

7. Hope in Hell: Inside the World of Doctors without Borders by Dan Bortolotti

I did not “enjoy” this book. I do not think it is particularly well-written. However, for a long time I considered working for Medecins Sans Frontieres and this book definitely changed my perspective. Unless you have worked for MSF (or read the book, or spoken personally to one of their volunteers) whatever you think of MSF is wrong. Seriously. I think a lot of people study health sciences because of MSF, and it is important to get all the facts before making such a decision.

8. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, And The Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

An heartbreaking true story of Hmong refugees and how the inability of their doctors to understand their culture (and vice versa) lead to complete treatment failure. Incredibly important, as the possibility of having to treat someone of an unknown language and culture is huge in our global society.

9. When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution by Devra Davis

A book about the decades-long fight for a cleaner environment – ranging from the workplace to the air we breathe. This book is very statistical and scientific, and not the easiest read, but incredibly interesting. You will be shocked how government and big corporation have corroborated in hiding information that could save lives.

10. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The World by Tracy Kidder

Paul Farmer is an incredibly doctor and human being. I tried to read his book, Infections and Inequalities, and I admit that I could not finish it. It went over my head. This biography is incredible though. Inspiring, easy to read, even fun to read (and biographies are rarely fun or easy to read).



  1. Camila says:

    Oh, God. Medicine is the last thing on things I’d dedicate my life to. No disrespect to you guys, I’m just not made for that. Blood…. no.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog! 🙂

    1. Hah, it’s not for everyone (thankfully, otherwise I wouldn’t have a job). 🙂

  2. ablightedone says:

    Molokai’i sounds interesting! I’m not a prospective health student but this list is really interesting! Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting!

    1. Thanks! Molokai’i is awesome. Also, it’s really fun to read a book set in Hawaii. Really beautiful descriptions.

  3. Maggie says:

    What an amazing topic! I love how you picked something so personal to you, so much more interesting than my worst covers pick! I’m studying to get my MPH and eventually want to be a registered dietitian and probably work in a hospital so healthcare is an interest of mine, as well.

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    1. Thank you! Sometimes a personal topic is good, but then again a topic that more people can relate to is also beneficial. Anyways, I’m thinking the “best medical books” TTT might become an annual feature here 😛
      I have a lot of dietitian friends studying on my campus. They’re awesome. Dietitians are increasingly being recognized as an essential service more these days, rather than a privilege for the wealthy. Best of luck with your studies!

  4. I don’t always love health-ish type books, but there are a few on your list that sound really interesting. I’ve only read one — MOLOKA’I — and it was very eye-opening. The other hospital book I read and enjoyed was WEEKENDS AT BELLEVUE by Julie Holland.

    Happy TTT!

    1. Health-ish books aren’t for everyone, but I think a LOT of people can enjoy Molokai’i. Thanks for mentioning Weekends at Bellevue, I just looked at it on Goodreads and definitely want to read it. It sounds AWESOME.

  5. TrishaDM says:

    I haven’t read any of these with the exception of Mountains Beyond Mountains. They all sound so good.
    The to read list just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    1. It does, doesn’t it? I’m finally reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!

  6. Nikki says:

    I’m definitely not the intended audience for these kinds of books, lol – BUT I did read Mountains Beyond Mountains my freshman year of college because it was the “common book” all freshmen were required to read. I remember it being really inspiring, and I definitely liked it more than I thought I would.

    1. I’ve heard of a lot of colleges where it’s prescribed reading for freshmen. Glad you liked it too!

  7. ChrissiReads says:

    A very informative top ten list! 🙂

  8. Pranab says:

    Hi! This year I have resolved to read more. And to put that into effect, I started Googling for book lists and landed on your blog! I have read a couple of these on the list and am hoping to include some more. Just purchased a book off an online bookstore: essays on becoming a better doctor (sounded like something I would like to read!). Hope to go through your list (bookmarked the page!).

    Oh, and a very happy new year to you! Let me just say that although I have not had the time to read your latest posts (been swamped the past few months what with thesis defense and all) but I just love your blog.

    Keep being awesome in 2015 (and beyond)!


    1. barefootmegz says:

      Well, I’m so glad Google led you here! 😀 That book of essays sounds intriguing, you should tell me if it was any good!
      I hope you’re successful in your resolution – reading is certainly one of the most important things in my life. Thanks for the lovely message – best wishes for you this coming year!

      1. Pranab says:

        Still awaiting the book… Will update as soon as I get done with it!

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