Books on My Nightstand

February 5, 2013
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Residency Blog

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For those engaged in the process of becoming physicians or who are already health care professionals, or anyone interested in the practice of medicine, there are some books that I consider “must-reads.” The following books either provide insight in various aspects of patient care and our health care system or illustrate the privilege that health care professionals possess.  Above all, these books allow us to be inspired.

Cutting For Stone, written by master physician, Abraham Verghese, is fully worthy of the hype that it has received. Addressing many themes, it is a beautiful novel that explores the multi-faceted characteristics of physicians and how they are motivated, and celebrates the practice of mentorship and apprenticeship. It also depicts the assimilation of an international medical graduate into the US system — even looking at the perceived differences between community and academic programs. I walked away from this book with an appreciation of Ethiopian culture (and even how to pronounce Ethiopia: “Eethopia”). Dr. Verghese is a true marvel, who could easily be the hero for “foreign medical grads,” having received his MD in India and residency and fellowships in the U.S., and is presently one of the most renowned physicians of our time. I also recommend the “Stanford 25,” now available on the iPAD, an initiative he developed that highlights the importance of the physical exam and demonstrates in practical fashion how to perform proper exams.

Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick: The Institute of Medicine goals for healthcare underscore that patient care must be patient-centered. One way to ensure patient-centered care is to practice motivational interviewing (MI). Understanding the principles of MI and becoming skilled in the art of motivating patients to integrate healthful practices into their lives is critical. Not enough time is spent in medical school learning about the psychological principles that underlie how people change. Yet, the performance of physicians is increasingly being measured by patient outcomes, and MI has been shown to positively impact those outcomes. This book helps to make the practice of MI easy to assimilate in your approach to patients, and to other situations in your life.

The Health Care Handbook, by Elisabeth Askin and Nathan Moore, was written by two medical students from Washington University in St. Louis. Their quest to better understand the dynamics, financing, terminology of our health care system, and the underpinnings of the Affordable Care Act led to the recognition that a handbook, clearly written and fun to read, was needed. They took up the task and have produced a marvelous book. If you’ve ever wondered what the Joint Commission was, what “bundled payments” are, and have ever nodded when a faculty member mentioned “capitation” and had no idea what she was talking about, this is a resource for you. This handbook represents a superb achievement, and is a great example of what can be accomplished when one applies his or herself thoroughly and with integrity.

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Dr. Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is a superb surgeon, a magnificent writer, and an important player in the world of Patient Safety and Quality who began the process of writing about quality improvement that was easily digested not only by health care professionals but by the lay public. He played a very important role in how President Obama conceived his principles of how healthcare should be delivered. This collection of essays (originally published in The New Yorker) depicts various clinical scenarios where errors are made, and explores the underlying themes of how they get made. They are absolutely riveting and beautiful. In fact, any of Dr. Gawande’s books (Checklist Manifesto, Better) are a must-read as are any of his essays published in The New Yorker among other magazines and medical journals.

Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s biography of Dr. Paul Farmer is captivating and a masterpiece. I defy you to come away from this book without an appreciation that much can be accomplished with extraordinary hard work, dedication, determination and a vision. Readers are provided with an overview of how Paul Farmer grew up and how his motivations to make a significant different in global health developed. How he comes to construct the world renowned Partners In Health, and his work in Haiti, is described in rich and satisfying detail.

How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, is an extremely interesting work of non-fiction that provides fascinating examples of how physicians make decisions. He illustrates beautifully how doctors can go astray or take the right path in their thought process when devising the differential diagnosis of a patient’s presentation. The reader appreciates how easy it can be to accept medical information provided by other physicians about a patient without rethinking the history or clinical cues, therefore come to wrong conclusions about a patient’s diagnosis, leading to tragic consequences.

Other contemporary masters of the medical narrative are Doctors Danielle Ofri, Paula Chen, and Perri Klass, all of whom have written books about the medical experience and numerous articles.

Happy readings, and I’d love to hear your recommendations!


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