9 Best Books for Healthcare Students & Professionals

We can all learn from those who came before us, and reading books by the experts is a great way to absorb ideas and skills to implement in our studies or practice. As a healthcare student, while your curriculum may be full of assigned reading, these titles are a good way to branch out a little from classroom-based learning to come to better understand practicing in your field. If you’re already a provider, it may seem redundant to read about your field in your free time, and these books may be able to guide your practice to continue improving.

I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse, Lee Gutkind

This anthology of stories demonstrates the kindness, skill, grit, and perseverance required to grow in the field of nursing. From blunders to moments of profound connection, nurses share their lived experiences thoughtfully and thoroughly. Stories are taken from all stages of a nursing career in various milieu, and provide guidance to new and seasoned nurses alike on how to grow, learn, and tackle the challenges that face them as first-line providers in medicine.

Intuitive Eating, Kirstin Englemann

Unlike other diet books or fads, Intuitive Eating is an approach to food that is sustainable and patient-driven, without cutting out entire groups of food or creating a branded set of rules to which you must adhere. Intuitive Eating dives into the science behind the method, building a meal plan, and most importantly, learning the skill of mindful eating. Dietitians and other providers alike will gain a great deal from this book, which dissects some of the emotional underpinnings of our relationships with food, dieting and diet culture, and how to use our bodies as guides for how we eat.

Run, Don’t Walk, Adele Levine

In this memoir of working at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the world leader in amputee rehabilitation, Adele Levine recounts her experiences over the course of six years of providing physical therapy to returning veterans. Follow Levine and a cohort of characters through their experiences beginning treatment immediately following their surgeries, veterans comparing stories and stumps, and the impact of being on display as a part of the national conversation about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

The most painful conversation in healthcare, but without a doubt the most important, is about death and dying. Atul Gawande discusses the advancements in medicine that have allowed citizens to achieve advanced age, and points out that many of the structures we’ve established to support them are flimsy, at best. From exploring the benefits of pets and connection with small children for older adults to the restrictions that nursing homes place on their patients’ diets and freedoms, Gawande explores his own family’s losses and decisions around end-of-life care as he zooms out to look at our practices and beliefs as a whole.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay

A memoir for anyone who is pursuing a career as a physician, This is Going to Hurt is a funny and poignant look at life from inside the healthcare system. Set in the UK (but with explanations offered to a non-UK audience), Adam Kay chronicles his days and weeks, giving the reader a real sense of days-in-the-life of a doctor. From earning less than the hospital parking meters to the challenging and rewarding moments in medicine, Kay’s authenticity shines through this entire book.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, T. R. Reid

As the debate about healthcare rages on in the United States, T. R. Reid went to similar industrialized nations, France, Germany, the UK, Canada, and Japan, to explore their universal health care systems and outcomes on population health. The book weaves individual cases with statistics and figures to breathe life into this complex and divisive subject, with updates to include discussion of laws that have passed since the book’s initial publication. Wherever you stand on the American healthcare debate, you can learn something here about health policy and the structure of systems that exist to try to keep us well.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Ann Fadiman

This book became an instant classic in medical ethics when it was first published in 1997, and for good reason. It looks at dynamics between immigrants from other parts of the world as they interface with the medical system in the United States, and in particular, a young Hmong girl, Lia Lee, and the cultural divides between her providers’ view of her diagnosis and treatment and the choices her family were empowered to make on her behalf. An essential text for beginning to learn about interacting with patients from other cultural backgrounds, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a rich look at one particular sliver of intersection of American healthcare and immigration.

How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman

Aspiring to be a doctor is one thing, thinking like one is another. In Jerome Groopman’s book, he looks at the diagnostic process, thinking traps, and the mistakes he has made in his practice to encourage doctors to look closely at their cases. Through useful vignettes, he isolates factors that contribute to a doctor’s successes and errors, how to communicate clearly and efficiently with colleagues for optimizing patient outcomes, and the necessary steps required to grow from being a medical student to a physician.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

An emotional and compelling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Paul Kalanithi’s diagnosis of Stage IV brain cancer at age 36, just on the cusp of finishing his ten years of training to be a neurosurgeon. This book faces the challenging realities of being a medical provider one day, and a patient the next. While Kalanithi died in 2015 before he completed this work, this is a profound exploration of death, meaning, and the future while navigating a terminal diagnosis.