• Five Books, Five Podcasts for Every Medical Student

    During my candidate speech for the AAFP Board of Directors at the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, I mentioned several books that inspired me throughout my journey in medicine. I was excited to be contacted by several students seeking recommendations after that speech because books (including audiobooks) and podcasts have been some of the most impactful motivators during my medical school career.  

    Black headphones with a stack of books on a blue background. The concept of audiobooks and modern education

    As a fourth-year student, I've enjoyed the luxury of more free time to explore more media, much of which is centered around medicine. However, exploring other topics intertwined with social determinants of health has really broadened my perspective on the issues patients struggle with day in and day out. Below are some of the books and podcasts that have consistently reminded me of my purpose on this sometimes-challenging path to medicine. I promise they will affect your patient care more than the Krebs cycle.


    Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End -- Though we are taught in medical school to diagnose and treat disease, we are rarely taught how to deal with the frailty of aging and the inevitability of death. No matter what field of medicine you choose, you will walk away from this book by Atul Gawande, M.D., M.P.H., knowing we can all do a better job of exploring end-of-life goals and giving our patients the ability to make more fulfilling decisions at the end of life.

    My Own Country: A Doctor's Story -- Although his novel Cutting for Stone has arguably received more acclaim, this memoir by Abraham Verghese, M.D., M.A.C.P., resonated with me personally because it is about Verghese's time practicing in the same Appalachian city in which I am completing my medical training. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit this conservative rural region, Verghese was an internal medicine resident and one of the first doctors to treat this stigmatized disease. In My Own Country, we get to see the beginnings of his now renowned advocacy for compassionate bedside manner.

    The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care -- If you've spent a day in the clinic, I hope you'll agree there are ways we could make health care delivery more efficient. This book by T.R. Reid, J.D., explores how various countries around the world deal with major issues like high administrative burden and examines different models of health insurance coverage. One of his major points is that in the United States we don't employ a single system, but rather a combination of systems, with respect to different patient populations. This book significantly expanded my understanding of the options available for health care delivery and made me think more critically about the conversations I have about the future of our health system.

    Beartown -- Fredrik Backman's novel starts as a story about a hockey game that will significantly impact the economy and future of Beartown, a community completely consumed by the sport. However, when this small town is hit with a shocking accusation against its star player, both community members and readers begin to understand the intricacy of how tragedies like these happen and how they cause horrible ripple effects. I'm doing my best to interest you without spoiling the story, but this is one of the best books I've read in the last year and it provides such an important perspective on what is happening every day in our communities -- whether we know or it not. When you're done, I also recommend Backman's A Man Called Ove as a heartwarming and hopeful follow-up to any of these other recommendations.

    When Breath Becomes Air -- At the height of his career as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, M.D., finds himself in the horribly unique position of being both a new physician and a young patient. Armed with more knowledge than one might desire in his situation, Kalanithi has to decide how to live with what indeterminate amount of time he has left after being diagnosed with a cancer that he knows will ultimately take his life. Kalanithi's autobiography is an emotional odyssey that forces medical professionals to question our own values and priorities. Pro tip: Do not finish this book in the middle seat of a plane on the way to National Conference because you will be crying.


    "The Nocturnists" -- Those who know me know that I am a huge proponent of narrative medicine, which is probably why this is my favorite of the medical podcasts. This is a collection of stories from physicians in various fields who share how their careers have been shaped by poignant experiences. Try "Compassionate Release," the second episode of season two, in which family physician Michele DiTomas, M.D., discusses her work in correctional medicine at a men's prison in Los Angeles. If you've never thought about working with incarcerated populations, she might just change your mind.

    Anything involving Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. -- Brown is everywhere these days, and for good reason. Her talent is digging through research on unifying human experiences and giving us the language to grow and live more "wholehearted" lives. She discusses several topics that I have personally dealt with as a direct result of medical school: shame, failure, vulnerability, trust and courage. She will leave you feeling "seen, heard and valued," which can sometimes be difficult to find in medical education. I'd start at the beginning by listening to her TEDxHouston talk about the power of vulnerability. Then check out the interviews she's done on several podcasts, such as "Ten Percent Happier."

    "More Perfect" -- A spinoff of another popular favorite podcast, "Radiolab," "More Perfect" walks you through the Supreme Court decisions that have shaped our country's laws. I found this podcast incredibly helpful in understanding the history behind some of the most controversial decisions in our political system. It also made me significantly more conscious of how I vote. Although it's not explicitly a health care podcast, these decisions have real effects on the lives of our patients. For a first listen, try "The Hate Debate" and "The Gun Show" episodes.

    "The Curbsiders" -- This popular podcast is definitely more clinically oriented, but it's great for medical students with upcoming tests or away rotations who are looking for ways to utilize time spent exercising, driving or getting outside. This is also a favorite for residents who are looking to brush up on topics on their way to clinic.

    "AFP Podcast"-- I know it sounds like I'm tooting our own horn here, but this podcast -- hosted by University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix Family Medicine Residency Program Director Steven Brown, M.D., and third-year residents -- explores evidence from American Family Physician in a quick 30 minutes. In case that doesn't excite you, I will say episodes often cover topics outside the standard realm of medicine. For example, I just listened to an episode about coaching patients on blood pressure management, which tells listeners that physicians who emphasize patient ownership and show care and concern for their patients have better outcomes for behavioral interventions on blood pressure management. Sounds like something I can do as a medical student!

    Margaret Miller is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.


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