The best painfully honest books about training to become a doctor

David Z. Hirsch Author Of Didn't Get Frazzled
By David Z. Hirsch

Who am I?

I think our collective fascination with medical training is understandable. What bizarre sorcery molds otherwise sensible college graduates into fully functioning physicians? Is it possible to maintain your humanity in the process? Or any semblance of a normal relationship? While my book remains the only novel about medical school training, many great physician memoirs detail the typically exhausting, frequently bizarre, and ultimately gratifying experience of becoming a doctor. After graduating from Wesleyan University, I obtained my medical degree at New York University School of Medicine and trained in the primary care internal medicine program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. I live in Maryland with my wife and two children.

I wrote...

Didn't Get Frazzled

By David Z. Hirsch,

Book cover of Didn't Get Frazzled

What is my book about?

Medical student Seth Levine faces escalating stress and gallows humor as he struggles with the collapse of his romantic relationships and all preconceived notions of what it means to be a doctor. Didn’t Get Frazzled captures with distressing accuracy the gauntlet idealistic medical students must face to secure an MD and, against the odds, come out of it a better human being.

I broke from the tradition of memoir and wrote a novel because I wanted to use story to fully submerge the reader into the surreal world of medical school.

The books I picked & why

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Playing Doctor Part One: Medical School (Stumbling through with Amnesia)

By John Lawrence,

Book cover of Playing Doctor Part One: Medical School (Stumbling through with Amnesia)

Why this book?

The future Dr. Lawrence sustains two traumatic brain injuries right before starting medical school. After inexplicably not taking any time off to recover, he trundles ahead despite short-term memory loss. What follows is an entertaining and chaotic four years of surmounting formidable obstacles while suffering an imposter syndrome that lingers throughout his training.

I think every medical student aside from the most incurable narcissist feels they are playing doctor much of the time. This memoir is highly relatable.

Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

By Danielle Ofri,

Book cover of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

Why this book?

Written as a series of essays focusing on her experiences with individual patients, Dr. Ofri walks us through the entirety of her training. As she grows in confidence, she learns how to heal her patients and herself.

Dr. Ofri had a life between college and medical school (unlike me), so even though she is older than I am, she started at NYU/Bellevue the year after I graduated. I enjoyed reading how patient care had progressed at Bellevue in the years following my great escape.

In Stitches

By Anthony Youn,

Book cover of In Stitches

Why this book?

This fast-paced and often humorous memoir explores both medical school and the childhood experiences that led to Dr. Youn’s path as an outsider from the only Korean family in his small Michigan town to a celebrity plastic surgeon.

His redemptive progression from immature, sexually frustrated nerd to altruistic, dedicated physician should provide inspiration and hope for many anxious pre-meds.

This Won't Hurt a Bit (And Other White Lies): My Education in Medicine and Motherhood

By Michelle Au, MD,

Book cover of This Won't Hurt a Bit (And Other White Lies): My Education in Medicine and Motherhood

Why this book?

Dr. Au adapts her popular, quirky blog into a candid memoir that explores her journey to become a doctor, employing both humor and a weary fortitude.

In the second half of her book, she balances pregnancy and early motherhood with the protracted hours and perpetual stress endemic to medical training. I found these later vignettes exploring the competing demands and her mounting insecurities particularly compelling.

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Young Doctor

By Adam Kay,

Book cover of This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Young Doctor

Why this book?

How different is medical training in the UK under the National Health Service? Dr. Kay divulges the benefits (universal healthcare, free medical school) and harms (undervalued and overworked physicians and staff) in his passionate and jaunty memoir.

Most UK docs work for an inadequately funded public health system that neglects its exhausted medical staff, while a select few physicians cash in via a shadow private option that provides exclusive care to its wealthy elite. Dr. Kay exposes the rotten underbelly of the UK’s vaunted health system while extolling its promise.

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