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

Why am I passionate about this?

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. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

Adam Stern Why did I love 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.

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…

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

Adam Stern Why did I love 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.

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…

Book cover of When Breath Becomes Air

Adam Stern Why did I love 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. 

By Paul Kalanithi,

Why should I read it?

9 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?


'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…

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

Adam Stern Why did I love 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. 

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?




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…

Book cover of The House of God

Adam Stern Why did I love 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. 

By Samuel Shem,

Why should I read it?

5 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,…

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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

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