Journeys with Joshua: Joshua Wienczkowski walks us through med school at East Tennessee’s College of Medicine with his monthly blog updates. Get an inside look into med school down South and life as a student adcom member through the eyes of a former professional songwriter with a whole lot of clinical experience — thanks Joshua for sharing this journey with us!
I’m in my second year of medical school now, about to take my boards in June, and start in the clinics in July. Needless to say, I’ve survived thus far! In the process leading up to applying to medical school, and also while I’ve been in it the past 2 years, I’ve read a lot of medically-related books for personal and professional development. I’ve come up with a list of must-reads because they’ll not only expose you to more aspects of medicine, but many will help reaffirm your motivations for medicine. They’ll also help you be introspective to figure out if becoming a physician really is for you, and in the process, will help write your essays and application with depth and character.
1. Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon’s First Years is my absolute number one read. Dr. Michael Collins grew up in a big Catholic family in Chicago, played hockey at Notre Dame, then broke concrete and worked with his back for a few years before he found medicine was his calling. An honest, raw, and real look into residency training, Collins does an amazing job writing with passion and humanity about what it’s like to be an Orthopedic Surgery resident at one of the best institutions in the world, The Mayo Clinic.
2. Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Dr. Christine Montross is an incredibly insightful read on the humanities learned from spending a semester with “Eve.” As a former English and poetry professor, Montross has a gift of placing you in her grimy gloves as she discovers more about Eve, but even more about herself in the process. This book did a great job preparing me mentally for maneuvering the complex emotions that come with intimately learning your donor and first patient.
3. Atul Gawande is one of my favorite authors, and has penned some amazing reads that span from what goes wrong in the operating room with Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science to how our healthcare system got to its current state and some potential solutions for success as practicing medicine in the future with Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. Also, look at how he improved outcomes in surgical practice in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, and more recently, his in-depth thoughts on death and dying with Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Dr. Gawande has always brought fresh perspective on how I view myself and my role in the future of medicine.
4. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder has definitely been an influence on my desire to serve those with less than myself. Dr. Farmer is an interesting character who splits his time between teaching at Harvard, and working to build and maintain a healthcare system in Haiti and many other third world countries. Kidder follows Farmer and spends an inordinate amount of time traipsing the globe together, documenting what it means to be selfless in all one does, and shows unabashedly how one physician can impact the lives of thousands upon thousands. Kidder also wrote an incredibly compelling book, Strength in What Remains, where he tells the story of Deo, a medical student forced to flee his own country during the civil war between the Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi, eventually finding himself impoverished in America. Both are must-read biographies that will help you define if and why medicine is right for you.
5. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Dr. Siddharth Mukherjee is exactly what it sounds like – a documented history of where cancer began, how treatment was discovered, and the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the past century. This book was such a fascinating read, because it helped paint the melded picture of medicine that is truly an amalgam of healing, teaching, politics, science, and pure chance that sometimes, we simply cannot control.
Some other notable reads I would strongly recommend:
• Genius on the Edge by Dr. Gerald Imber shows the foundation of surgery and residency training as we know it, yet was created by a man who was profoundly addicted to morphine, cocaine, and an insatiable drive for perfection. Really cool history read.
• The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a cool dichotomy between the impoverished family of the former Henrietta Lacks and the profound empire that her immortal cervical cancer cells, HeLa cells, have created. Bound to stir ethical debate and discussion, you’ll learn more about your own beliefs you didn’t know you had in the process.
• The DOs: Osteopathic Medicine in America by Norman Gevitz is a really cool read if you’re potentially interested in pursuing Osteopathic instead of Allopathic Medicine. It documents how Osteopathic Medicine began in the Civil War from a field surgeon, and how this facet of medicine has evolved over the years into a prominent philosophy.
If you’re getting ready to apply this year, reading will help immensely with both the introspection needed to write a successful application, but also shift your mind away from all the sciences and towards proper sentence structure – something I’m sure you haven’t thought about in a long time! Even if you’re not applying this year, these books will show you that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel! Keep working hard, and as always, feel free to reach out with any questions. Good luck!
Joshua A. Wienczkowski
MD Candidate 2017
• Parents of Pre-Med Students: How To Help
• Medical School Application Strategy: MD vs. DO Programs
• Advice From A Med School Admissions Director [Podcast]