Good Reads for Preprofessional Students

  • Nov 28, 2016

I'll never forget when I was a senior in high school, I was taking a 2-hour block class called health ocupations. Here, we learned basic physiology of the body systems, learned about different health professions, and practiced skills including sterile gloving, CPR, and bedside manners. What I didn't expect in such a hands-on class was to have required reading homework every night and a discussion following in class the next day. At first, I dreaded it. I thought to myself, I'm taking AP Bio, I'm busy, and it's my senior year, I don't have time to read this book! However, I am so thankful that my teacher chose for us to read it!

We first read Complications by Dr. Atul Gawande, and we also read Better by Dr. Gawande, after we finished Complications. These books let you gain some insight to difficult patients, the in's/out's of medicine, and the things that are imperfect about being a patient provider. It isn't just about medicine, you can learn a lot about improving yourself though these books! Since we have winter break and some down time upon us, I believe this would be a great time to read leisurly and take a break from the IAH readings you've done all semester. Although I had to read these for a class I've taken previously, I have since reread them because they're that good!


book cover

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002)

Complications is a collection of stories and personal tragedies written by Dr. Atul Gawande, who was a surgical resident at that time. Dr. Gawande describes his experiences in the field, describes what is it like learning to practice medicine, and the questions he comes up with along the way from these experiences.

In "Complications," Dr. Gawande describes several ways in which medicine is imperfect and will continue to be that way. The first part of the book, "How We Learn," he discusses the ways in which medicine will be prone to errors since it is performed by humans. He also talks about his first surgical procedure, and gives us insight on his failures with this, until he finally practiced enough to succeed. Gawande demonstrates. He also writes about how other doctors learn from each other—whether during a professional conference meeting or from observing a good doctor make mistakes. He describes many medical mysteries that he has encountered, and how doctors are always looking for a physical, or logical explanation of a problem (which isn't always the solution). Doctors are puzzled when these non-textbook cases arise and sometimes even begin to question that the patient is even experiencing a problem at all. Several of the cases he mentions discuss the lack of compassion and belief that existed in the patient-provider relationsip.

In the last part of the book, Dr. Atul Gawande reveals how much of medicine is uncertain. He goes on to explain that though diagnostic tests may be accurate, they still rely upon a person to order it, analyze it, and make a decision based off of that test. With this in mind, Gawande tries to decide the appropriatenessof who should decide a patient's care. He concludes that both the patient and doctor should work together, and that the ultimate goal is that the patient's best interests are in mind.

In the end, Gawande realizes that encountering uncertainties is just part of the medical field, and doctors can set themselves up for success by accepting the complications that come with medicine, and to never stop trying to succeed.


book cover

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance (2007)

Much like Complications, this novel opens up the world's eyes to the everyday decisions, and solutions that doctors need to make every day. The main difference is that there is a life on the line, and that this person has a quality of life that must be maintained. Atul Gawande has categorized Better into 3 sections:

  1. Diligence: Every year you hear about people aquiring infections while staying in a hospital that they didn't have when they were admitted. MRSA is a HUGE problem clinically, and infections are so very difficult to treat often times. The main problem here is about hand washing! After much study, this was found to be the culprit of the spreading of infection in hospitals (seems like a no-brainer), but there are little improvements that make HUGE differences in the care we receive. Diligence is doing something that requires constant effort every time, and this book touches on many of these issues surrounding diligence that healthcare faces today.
  2. Measure: Another part of diligence is measuring, the quality of care and life, and always noting when things have been happening.  It is just part of the process of caring for patients.In order to understand in healthcare, you need to measure things. Dr. Gawande states that the time from wound to care is in direct correlation to life and death. Minimizing the time in treatment is essential to maximizing life. Knowing this allows them to minimize the time in several areas, and there are stories of this represented in his book.
  3. Simplistic Relentlessness : Being clever and resourceful is directly maintained though measurement and diligence. Dr. Gawande explains that making slight changed to your everyday behaviour can really give you an advantage in healthcare. Taking the extra minute to do something the right way, or to check over your work can help avoid many, many simple mistakes that happen every day. A great example is that most people would not look at the little things, but a simple check list in the operating room can save so many lives.

A few of Dr. Gawande's other books including: The Checklist Manifesto (2009) and Being Mortal (2014), I have not read but I am sure they're of the same caliber of these two! These books are so interesting, and even if you are not pursuing surgery or even medical school persay, there are great lessons that you can learn from reading these.

By: Samantha