The best medical memoirs that will make your heart ache with emotion

The Books I Picked & Why

Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

By Sandeep Jauhar

Book cover of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

Why this book?

Intern is the realest account I’ve ever read of what it’s truly like to start working after leaving the nest of medical school. Jauhar’s writing is crisp and human, while the content gives the reader a true glimpse into the life of a new doctor. This book taught me that it was okay to experience impostor syndrome, to feel overwhelmed, and to express yourself creatively even as a doctor. This author has gone on to write regularly in The New York Times and has become one of medicine’s most treasured physician-writers.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life

By Suzanne Koven

Book cover of Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life

Why this book?

Dr. Koven and I are on the same broad faculty at Harvard Medical School, though we had never crossed paths until our medical memoirs were released the same year. I got to know her a bit in that time, but even more so in the pages of her wonderful memoir, Letter to a Young Female Physician. This book so clearly elucidates and humanizes the complex path of becoming a physician as a woman and the lessons she learned along the way. Its pages are as charming as they are poignant.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi

Book cover of When Breath Becomes Air

Why this book?

As recent as its publication was, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air has truly become an instant classic in the space of medical memoir as it spans the space between and across the authoritative physician and the patient seeking help. In Paul’s case, he experienced both as he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer during his surgical residency. Paul manages to reveal within his words and complex thoughts just how rich a person’s spirit can be even whilst its body is beginning to fail. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande

Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Why this book?

Atul Gawande manages to write compellingly about all manner of topics – even surgical check-lists – so when he decided to take on the hearty meat of life and death, there was no chance this book was not going to be outstanding. I recommend Being Mortal for all doctors, patients, parents, and children – yes, just about everyone. It’s the first book I’ve come across that so honestly advises, educates, and still entertains on the topic of some process we all have in common – the act of leaving this world. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The House of God

By Samuel Shem

Book cover of The House of God

Why this book?

Though technically a work of loose fiction based on his experiences as an intern, I do not feel it is right to have a list of medical memoirs without The House of God holding down the anchor. Several decades old now, it remains the standard for the delicate space between self-disclosure in medicine and irreverence. Physician writers know it can be hard to thread that particular needle, but Shem does it so well that there is seldom a medical student who comes through training who has not picked up a copy at one point or another. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists