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

Who am I?

I used to think one had to choose a career and work at it, giving up the parts of himself that didn’t fit neatly into that category. I was wrong. As a man in my late thirties, I am an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, but I’m also a writer. It’s books like the ones I’ve recommended here that convinced me that one does not need to turn off the parts of himself that are creative in order to be a doctor or even a grown-up. In fact, cultivating those same parts can be additive to this whole experience of being an adult. 


I wrote...

Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training

By Adam Stern,

Book cover of Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training

What is my book about?

Committed tells the story of Dr. Adam Stern’s journey from wide-eyed med school graduate to full-fledged Harvard psychiatrist. On its surface, Committed is a very realistic account of what it’s like to train in psychiatry at one of the most prestigious programs in the country while at its very core, it’s really a book about finding human connection and even love. Dr. Stern brings the reader along as he pulls the curtain back on the emotional toll of training. He reveals to the reader the strengths and many limitations of the field of psychiatry and shows that a foundation of empathy alone can go a long way toward helping another person. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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.

Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

By Sandeep Jauhar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intern as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In Jauhar's wise memoir of his two-year ordeal of doubt and sleep deprivation at a New York hospital, he takes readers to the heart of every young physician's hardest test: to become a doctor yet remain a human being." ― Time

Intern is Dr. Sandeep Jauhar's story of his days and nights in residency at a busy hospital in New York City, a trial that led him to question his every assumption about medical care today.

Residency―and especially its first year, the internship―is legendary for its brutality, and Jauhar's experience was even more harrowing than most. He switched from physics…


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.

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

By Suzanne Koven,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letter to a Young Female Physician as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2017, Dr Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by women doctors, including her own personal struggle with "imposter syndrome"-a long-held, secret belief that she was not clever enough or good enough to be a "real" doctor. Accessed nearly 300,000 times by readers around the world, Koven's Letter to a Young Female Physician has evolved into a work that reflects on her career in medicine, in which women still encounter sexism, pay inequity and harassment. Koven tells engaging stories about her pregnancy during a gruelling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her son and parents…


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 Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked When Breath Becomes Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**THE MILLION COPY BESTSELLER**

'Rattling. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.' Atul Gawande, bestselling author of Being Mortal

What makes life worth living in the face of death?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity - the brain - and…


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. 

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Being Mortal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

'GAWANDE'S MOST POWERFUL, AND MOVING, BOOK' MALCOLM GLADWELL

'BEING MORTAL IS NOT ONLY WISE AND DEEPLY MOVING; IT IS AN ESSENTIAL AND INSIGHTFUL BOOK FOR OUR TIMES' OLIVER SACKS

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's…


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. 

The House of God

By Samuel Shem,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The House of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By turns heartbreaking, hilarious, and utterly human, The House of God is a mesmerizing and provocative novel about what it really takes to become a doctor.

"The raunchy, troubling, and hilarious novel that turned into a cult phenomenon. Singularly compelling...brutally honest."-The New York Times

Struggling with grueling hours and sudden life-and-death responsibilities, Basch and his colleagues, under the leadership of their rule-breaking senior resident known only as the Fat Man, must learn not only how to be fine doctors but, eventually, good human beings.

A phenomenon ever since it was published, The House of God was the first unvarnished, unglorified,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in female doctors, quality of life, and bildungsroman?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about female doctors, quality of life, and bildungsroman.

Female Doctors Explore 19 books about female doctors
Quality Of Life Explore 15 books about quality of life
Bildungsroman Explore 220 books about bildungsroman

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales, It's All in Your Head, and When the Body Says No if you like this list.