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.

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The books I picked & why

Medical School

By John Lawrence,

Book cover of Medical School

Why did I love 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.

By John Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ready to learn how to be a doctor? Well, neither was John...

#1 Best Seller " I stayed up far too late, often crying with laughter, reading about the medical mishaps and blunders..." - #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada and When Life Gives You Lululemons)

Playing Doctor is a medical memoir full of laugh-out-loud tales, born from chaotic, disjointed, and frightening nights on hospital wards during John Lawrence’s medical training and time as a junior doctor. This candid autobiography will demystify medical education and inspire you. Equal parts heartfelt, self-deprecating humor, and irreverent,…

Book cover of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

Why did I love 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.

By Danielle Ofri,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A “finely gifted writer” shares “fifteen brilliantly written episodes covering the years from studenthood to the end of medical residency” (Oliver Sacks, MD, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat)

Singular Intimacies is the story of becoming a doctor by immersion at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country—and perhaps the most legendary. It is both the classic inner-city hospital and a unique amalgam of history, insanity, beauty, and intellect. When Danielle Ofri enters these 250-year-old doors as a tentative medical student, she is immediately plunged into the teeming world of urban medicine: mysterious…

In Stitches

By Anthony Youn,

Book cover of In Stitches

Why did I love 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.

By Anthony Youn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tony Youn grew up up one of two Asian-American kids in a small town of near wall-to-wall whiteness. Too tall and too thin, he wore thick Coke-bottle glasses, braces, Hannibal Lecter headgear, and had a protruding jaw that one day began to grow, expanding Pinocchio-like, protruding to an unthinkable, monstrous size. After high school graduation, while other seniors partied at the shore or explored Europe, Youn lay strapped in an oral surgeon's chair as he broke his jaw, then reset it and wired it shut for six weeks.

Ironically, it was this brutal makeover that led him to his life's…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Michelle Au, MD,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked This Won't Hurt a Bit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michelle Au started medical school armed only with a surfeit of idealism, a handful of old 'ER' episodes to reference, and some vague notion about 'helping people'. This is the story of how she grew up and became a real doctor.
Through her years in medical training, she also attempts to maintain a life outside the hospital as she and her resident husband decide to have a baby. A new mother struggling to balance long days and nights in the hospital with her 'real' life, Au finds herself in the classic struggle of working motherhood, trying to do two equally…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Adam Kay,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked This Is Going to Hurt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now an AMC+ series starring Ben Whishaw

The acclaimed multimillion-copy bestseller, This Is Going to Hurt is Adam Kay’s equally "blisteringly funny" (Boston Globe) and “heartbreaking” (New Yorker) secret diaries of his years as a young doctor.

Welcome to 97-hour weeks. Welcome to life and death decisions. Welcome to a constant tsunami of bodily fluids. Welcome to earning less than the hospital parking meter. Wave goodbye to your friends and relationships. Welcome to the life of a first-year doctor.

Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights, and missed weekends, comedian and former medical resident Adam Kay’s This Is Going…

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