The best books about female doctors

10 authors have picked their favorite books about female doctors and why they recommend each book.

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The Doctors Blackwell

By Janice P. Nimura,

Book cover of The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

Janice P. Nimura digs deep into the diaries and letters of the Blackwell sisters, who were among the very first women in America to be trained as doctors. The book reads like a novel without sacrificing historical accuracy and scholarly rigor. I found myself deeply moved by the sisters’ struggles to be taken seriously as physicians in an entirely male world. Jeered in lecture halls and treated as curiosities off-campus, they maintained a dignified courage and a relentless work ethic. Eventually, they shamed their skeptics and opened the doors for future generations of women doctors. This is a compelling tale told well.

Who am I?

Heather Clark is the author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath which was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, and a Book of the Year at The Guardian, O the Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Times (London), Lit Hub, Good Morning America Book Club, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a new group biography about the Boston years of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and Maxine Kumin, under contract with Knopf. She is a professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, England.


I wrote...

Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

By Heather Clark,

Book cover of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

What is my book about?

In The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, Heather Clark focuses on Plath’s remarkable literary and intellectual achievements while restoring the woman behind the long-held myths about her life and art. With a wealth of never-before-accessed materials—including unpublished letters and manuscripts; court, police, and psychiatric records; and new interviews—Clark brings to life the spirited woman and visionary artist who blazed a trail that still lights the way for women poets the world over.

A Glimpse of Eternal Snows

By Jane Wilson-Howarth,

Book cover of A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

A poignantly written memoir about a couple’s decision to volunteer in remote Nepal with their three young sons, one with a severe disability. Jane is a doctor and her husband is an engineer, and while they attempt to make a difference in the lives of the people they live and work amongst, they also strive to provide the best possible lives for their children. This includes baby David, whose alternative life is to be stocked up with medication and given daily blood tests in UK hospitals, as an ‘interesting medical case’. 

A zoologist by training, Wilson-Howarth’s prose is wonderfully observant of the natural environment, and little David is bound to capture every reader’s heart.


Who am I?

I first volunteered overseas as a teenager. Driven by an insatiable desire to change the world, I helped to found a rural development organisation, PHASE, but found myself confronted with and paralysed by the complexities of the aid world. So as not to become jaded, I since shifted my focus to tackle what I believe to be the root causes of injustice in the world through global education, including researching and writing Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. I now mainly work as a consultant to improve the ethical practices of volunteer organisations.


I wrote...

Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad

By Claire Bennett, Joseph Collins, Zahara Heckscher, Daniela Papi-Thornton

Book cover of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky described this book as “An extraordinary contribution...a manifesto for doing good well.Every year, nearly 20 million people pack their bags to volunteer overseas—yet far too many are failing to make an impact, and some are even doing more harm than good. So how can we change the way we make positive change in the world? If you want to help you must first be willing to learn.

Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad offers a powerful and transformative new approach to international volunteering. The “learning service” model helps volunteers embrace the learning side of their adventures—and discover how cultivating openness, humility, and a willingness to reflect can enhance help them do good better. It’s not a lightweight 'how-to' handbook, but a thoughtful critique, a shocking exposé, and a detailed guide to responsibly serving communities in need.

This Won't Hurt a Bit

By Michelle Au, MD,

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

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.


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.

Ice Bound

By Jerri Nielsen, Maryanne Vollers,

Book cover of Ice Bound

Icebound is not a literary masterpiece nor is it a tale of exploration. It is, however, an essential Antarctic text, not just for the personal account found in its pages, but also because of the controversy still raging among Antarctic veterans regarding the decision to extract the author from Antarctica during the polar winter. Dr. Jeri Nielsen was the doctor at South Pole Station during the 1998 season. Her account of the challenges of polar medicine (Superglue is an essential medical supply at 90 South) and the stories of warm relationships with support staff at the station are fascinating. But the real story here is the diagnosis she made of her own breast cancer, which became a global news story when she was evacuated from the base during a dangerous winter flight.

Typically, there are no flights to South Pole Station during the polar winter due to exceptionally dangerous conditions…


Who am I?

I’m a Minnesotan, so I thought I was a cold-weather badass, but it wasn’t until my younger sister winter-overed at South Pole Station in the early 2000s that I realized that Minnesota is a balmy paradise compared with the ice chip at the bottom of the earth. Her adventures at 90 South inspired my interest in Antarctica, the history of how humans interact with extreme and dangerous natural environments, and the social dynamics of a community trying to survive in the most remote location on the planet. That interest grew so intense that I ended up spending four years researching and then writing a novel set on the seventh continent—South Pole Station.


I wrote...

South Pole Station

By Ashley Shelby,

Book cover of South Pole Station

What is my book about?

Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority? How many alcoholic drinks to you consume a week? Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver? These are some of the questions that determine if you have what it takes to survive at South Pole Station, a place with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year. Cooper Gosling has just answered five hundred of them. Her results indicate she is abnormal enough for Polar life.

Unmoored by a recent family tragedy, Cooper’s adrift at thirty and—despite her early promise as a painter—on the verge of sinking her career. So she accepts her place in the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica, where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own. Then a fringe scientist arrives, claiming climate change is a hoax. His presence will rattle this already-imbalanced community, bringing Cooper and the Polies to the center of a global controversy and threatening the ancient ice chip they call home.

The Unsung Hero

By Suzanne Brockmann,

Book cover of The Unsung Hero

Suzanne was one of the early military romance superstars, at least for me. Her books aren’t always just a simple chronological storyline. Here we meet a few couples or couples-to-be, plus there’s a flashback story as well. This is the first of the Troubleshooters series, and it was great to see how it started with a SEAL hero whose sighting of a terrorist in his hometown wasn’t believed because he’d had a head injury in combat. Tracking him down, while finding himself around a lost love, makes for a satisfying read.


Who am I?

I love the combination of action and romance and suspense. It’s a real juggle as an author to balance the two main elements (suspense and romance mostly), give each depth and page time, and make us care about the people both in love and in peril. I’ve always been drawn to suspense, even as a kid. But I gotta have the relationships, too. I used to direct plays with my childhood friends, and there were always bad guys and the romance—and this was long before I was thinking of having a real romance!


I wrote...

Wild Lies (Justiss Alliance)

By Tina Wainscott,

Book cover of Wild Lies (Justiss Alliance)

What is my book about?

Rathmusen Blackwood, aka Rath, rode off on his Harley after a SEAL team mission went deadly wrong and the media dubbed his unit “Rogue Six.” He needs to find the truth and avenge his comrades...and himself. The mole who fed the U.S. lethally false information is hiding in cartel territory in Mexico, so Rath breaks into the secluded house where intel says Dan is staying.

Instead, he finds Dan’s beautiful daughter, Neesa, who’s risking her life to find her father. Rath looks more like a narco than he does an agent, but he proves himself capable when she’s attacked. They follow Dan’s trail, and as their secrets come to light they are drawn deeper into mystery, danger, and a love neither could have imagined…

Singular Intimacies

By Danielle Ofri,

Book cover of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

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.


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.

Letter to a Young Female Physician

By Suzanne Koven,

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

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.


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. 

Fools Rush in

By Kristan Higgins,

Book cover of Fools Rush in

This book was Higgins’ debut and holy moly does it deliver! It’s endearing but not in a sappy way, sweet but not to the point of annoyance, swoony but not in a “I need Lava Soap" way, and most importantly it’s laugh-out-loud funny! Just like her many other books since, her characters are perfectly flawed with makes them beyond relatable and oh-so addictive! A great book to get to know this author!

Who am I?

I love to laugh. Quite often it’s at inappropriate times or at someone else’s expense, but either way, it’s a huge part of who I am. Second only to prayer, I find laughter to be the best remedy for a difficult situation. It’s hard to be sad when you’re laughing, and as a writer who puts characters into very challenging positions, that’s always at the forefront of my mind. While readers may not always relate to the exact circumstance my characters are in, they may very well find common ground in the levity they seek when trying to survive it.


I wrote...

See Jane Snap

By Bethany Crandell,

Book cover of See Jane Snap

What is my book about?

Handsome, successful husband. Adorable daughter. Chairmanship on the PTA. Security for her ailing mom. Jane’s got everything life has to offer. Including the lie that could destroy it all.

See Jane Snap is a laugh-out-loud story of a woman who’s committed to faking it ‘til she makes it…or loses her mind trying.

At Least You Have Your Health

By Madi Sinha,

Book cover of At Least You Have Your Health

Anyone who has ever seen a wellness guru post on Instagram knows that alternative medicine can get a little culty. This delightful novel follows an overworked gynecologist who takes a job at a high-end concierge service specializing in “alternative medicine,” drawn in by the perks, the flexibility, and her glamorous new clients and employers.


Who am I?

During the loneliness of the pandemic, I dreamed of group settings. Stuck in my apartment, I longed to lose myself in a community of people, or maybe to find myself in them. We’re all searching for that place where we belong, aren’t we? (Unless you’ve already found it, in which case: congratulations, and I’m jealous of you.) But when does a group that promises you belonging become something more sinister? I’m fascinated by groups that turn a bit (or a lot) cult-y — both in writing about them and reading about them.


I wrote...

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin,

Book cover of A Special Place for Women

What is my book about?

A Special Place for Women is about Jillian, an undercover journalist who infiltrates a secret club for the tastemaker girlbosses of NYC. The members are rumored to be the Hot Female Illuminati, but their power and influence extend far beyond what Jillian imagined. As she’s sucked into their glamorous world and uncovers their shocking secrets, she’ll have to decide whether to expose them… or to join them. 

The Tiger's Wife

By Téa Obreht,

Book cover of The Tiger's Wife

This is a gorgeous, poetic, magical book, with a strong female character with a mission that is not about falling in love and having children. Although there are love stories in the book, they are unusual ones (as shown by the title) and that is not the main narrative arc of the central protagonist. I long for books where women do something other than fall in love, have children, or emulate men.


Who am I?

I have been thinking a lot about what feminism means for me. In this interview, I said, "I wish more authors would write about strong women, beyond the strength and importance of motherhood, but not just emulating traditional male behavior." I feel that this is the kind of strong woman I am, as a woman forging a non-traditional path in mathematics. I have been on something of a mission to find books like this, and particularly ones written by women. I find such books frustratingly rare, so I wanted to recommend a few that I have found. There is more to being a woman than falling in love and having children.


I wrote...

X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

By Eugenia Cheng,

Book cover of X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender

What is my book about?

A brilliant mathematician examines the complexity of gender and society and forges a path out of inequality. Why are men in charge? After years in the male-dominated field of mathematics and in the female-dominated field of art, Eugenia Cheng has heard the question many times. In X + Y, Cheng argues that her mathematical specialty -- category theory -- reveals why.

Category theory deals more with context, relationships, and nuanced versions of equality than with intrinsic characteristics. Category theory also emphasizes dimensionality: much as a cube can cast a square or diamond shadow, depending on your perspective, so too do gender politics appear to change with how we examine them. Because society often rewards traits that it associates with males, such as competitiveness, we treat the problems those traits can create as male. But putting competitive women in charge will leave many unjust relationships in place. If we want real change, we need to transform the contexts in which we all exist, and not simply who we think we are.

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