Discover Magazine’s Vital Signs: True Tales of Medical Mysteries, Obscure Diseases, and Life-Saving Diagnoses by Dr. Rob Norman

If you’re a fun of short medical stories, this is a simple and interesting read. Some stories are definitely more exciting than others, but medicine is a broad subject, filled with a variety of specialties. What one person finds fascinating, another feels completely uninterested. This book features stories published in a Discover Magazine column known as “Vital Signs”. The writers are physicians of varying specialties and bring excitement to the arena of numerous specialties. One important factor that I took from the book is confirmation of the importance of the patient history. Several life-saving diagnoses are made based on a single fact presented by the patient. The best part about this book is the format being numerous short stories. If you don’t have the time to read a large novel, check this book out to get your reading fix fulfilled.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Imagine succumbing to an illness that slowly and methodically strips you of the characteristics that define you until you’re teetering on the edge of insanity and waking up tied down to a hospital bed. This is the true story presented by Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post reporter plagued with a life-threatening illness in the prime of her life.

This narrative is an astonishing & detailed account of the author’s personal fight against anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. This devastating & potentially lethal illness is an autoimmune disease that wasn’t officially discovered until 2007. Patients of the disease exhibit a variety of symptoms, most notably being psychiatric complications and seizures.

The scariest part about this illness is the fact that is can be easily overlooked by physicians, and most likely caused numerous misdiagnoses prior to its discovery. Imagine experiencing seizures and psychotic episodes, being diagnosed as schizophrenic or bipolar, and in reality you have a curable autoimmune disease.

All neurologists should read this book, but I recommend it to everyone. The story is simply astonishing and extremely insightful. The author presents a sinister situation in an exciting and entertaining manner. Further, she successfully presents scientific information in a way that maintains the readers attention.

Description in a single word: astonishing

Rating: 5/5

The House of God by Samuel Shem

Background Information:

The House of God by Samuel Shem is a book that every healthcare professional should read and illustrates what every patient fears most. This satirical novel provides an illustration of the medical internship that all doctors experience. Published in 1978, this book remains a favorite among medical students, interns, residents, and physicians. It has sold over 2 million copies over the last 30 years and has been received with exuberant praise, as well as harsh criticism.

Samuel Shem is a pseudonym of the psychiatrist Stephen Bergman, who wrote the novel based on his real-life experiences during his internship year at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Hospital in 1974. The author brings to life the inappropriate, yet hilarious behaviors that keep healthcare professionals from going insane, all the while maintaining a professional disposition in the presence of their patients.


Having worked in a hospital, I can definitely see the correlation between the material presented in this book and working in healthcare. Some of the situations seem exaggerated, but I wouldn’t put anything out of the realm of possibility. Many reviewers of the novel who read it both before and after experiencing their internship year said they thought it was exaggerated too… that is, until they were an intern.

I loved this book from the very start and literally laughed out loud on multiple occasions. I think it should be required reading for all healthcare professionals but especially for medical students. There are loads of morbid humor and sexually explicit narrations that I’m sure many people would find offensive. However, medical professionals often experience more bizarre, revolting, and morbid situations than most people would ever believe. This book presents a side of healthcare that goes unnoticed by everyone except healthcare professionals and perhaps for good reason. If you work in healthcare and need a good laugh, read this book. If you’re thinking of going into healthcare (more specifically, if you’re going to medical school), this could be a great way to develop an understanding that medicine isn’t like you see on TV. Basically, it’s not always pretty!

I’ll have to read this one again before my internship year, as well as after I’ve experienced the life of an intern. I’ve seen several physicians say you have an entirely different appreciation for it once you’ve actually experienced the situations illustrated. If this book provides any insight to my future in medicine, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an interesting ride!  In summary, I highly recommend this book.

A description in a single word: hilarious.

Rating: 4/5

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, MD

Checklists… one of the simplest methods of organization. In a world with exponential growth of complex products, ideas, processes, and professions, the important of something so minute seems infinitesimal. Yet, Atul Gawande demonstrates how the simplest of solutions can lead to dramatic results. This book explains how checklists can benefit someone for any endeavor, with a specific regard to it’s much-needed use in medicine. Numerous stories are provided to substantiate the drastic effects of using checklists. The evidence is so compelling it’s hard not to feel like you should adopt a checklist in various areas of your life.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to all readers, not just medical students and physicians. The techniques employed with a simple checklist can help various areas of specialty, and several fields are discussed throughout the book. As the book discusses, we have tendencies to avoid seemingly mundane tasks such as checklists, but the use of them can drastically change lives. In my opinion, this should be required reading for all medical professionals.

Rating: 5/5

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe

If you have any interest in pandemics and/or infectious disease, you should definitely check out this book. There were time when I was less than intrigued, but the information is extremely insightful. The book includes the history of bacteria & viruses, the process of how pandemics arise, experiences of the author, innovations over the last several decades and event innovations that could exist in the future. I listened to this book on audiobook, which might explain my being disinterested at certain parts of the book, but overall I would deem it a good read. However, I wouldn’t recommend this to the general public since it’s a book for those with specific interests. Like I said before, if you have an interest in this field of study, then definitely check this one out!

Rating: 3.5/5

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande

This book is an excellent read for anyone interested in healthcare, and I highly recommend it to any and all medical (or premed) students.  At it’s core, the book examines a fundamental goal of any and all physicians in hopes of determining the seemingly simple concept of how they can do better.  The author divides this core concept of doing better into qualities and characteristics that doctors should strive to develop and maintain throughout their career and continuing education.  The reader will encounter numerous medical and ethical dilemmas that are discussed in detail, inspiring thought-provoking ideas the entire time.  Multiple controversial topics are included within the text, each consisting of subject matter than all aspiring physicians should make themselves well aware of.  My only personal discontent with this book is when I finished it, simply because I didn’t want it to end.

Rating: 5/5

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

The author Mary Roach is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  It seems like she can make even the most mundane facts and information fascinating, and her propensity to research far from typical subject matter (oftentimes, subjects that would make many people queasy) is especially appealing as well.  In this short read, you will learn answers to many questions you may have asked yourself, as well as many more you haven’t thought about before.  Ranging from information regarding eating to bowel movements, chewing to stomach acid, and everything in between, this book is a phenomenal read.  While the information may not be for everyone, those who enjoy anatomy and physiology, this is an excellent book.  As always with books by Mary Roach, this is an entertaining read to say the least.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The first “immortal” human cells ever grown in culture were from a woman named Henrietta Lacks and became known as HeLA cells.  These cells led to the development of the polio vaccine and were used extensively in the research of cancer, viruses, and even the effects of the atom bomb.  Despite all of this, the woman behind it all is hardly known to the world and her family didn’t even know the cells existed until 20 years after she passed away.  The author uncovers the entire story in a fascinating journey that is both historical and highly informative.  This is a must read for anyone involved in a medical profession!

Rating: 5/5

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

This book defintely requires you to be comfortable reading about human cadavers but the information presented extremely interesting.  The author has an obvious passion for her work and presents a vast array of information regarding the human body after death.  I highly recommend this book to all premed and medical students!

Rating: 4.5/5

DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences  by Rick Strassman

This book was an extremely well documented account of researching dimethyltryptamine (DMT).  I would say both a pro and con for some readers is the extremely detailed narrations provided by the author.  The book provides insight into all aspects of conducting research from the struggles in obtaining funding and approval to the difficulties of the investigation itself.  Anyone interested in the field of medicinal, spiritual, mystical, and near-death phenomena should undoubtedly take the time to read this book.  However, it may feel too detailed for some readers since, as I said previously, the book is extremely detailed.  However, details are both expected and necessary for any reputable research and it is obvious that the author shows dedication and compassion for his field of studies.  The information and theories presented are truly astounding and oftentimes, seem incomprehensible.  However, the real benefit of this book is the thought-provoking experiences and concepts relayed by the author.  Everyone will find themselves thinking a little more after reading this book.

Rating: 3/5

Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar

I recommend this book to anyone considering medical school and to current medical school students.  Sandeep Jauhar presents a narrative of the struggles and successes of residency, most specifically illustrating his year as an intern.  Although much of his struggles seem to derive from feelings of inadequacy and professional self-doubt that not everyone experiences, the dilemmas he faces are very real scenarios a premed or med student should be made aware of.  My current standing in my own educational pursuit by no means gives me the privilege to accept or object to the narrative presented, seeing as I am yet to even attend medical school.  However, the information presented appears genuine and of obvious benefit for those with questions or concerns of the hardships encountered while becoming a physician.  Furthermore, the book provides insight into the sometimes frightening medical controversies that are only discussed amongst healthcare professionals.  In a struggle to maintain his compassion, make life and death decisions, and overcome the persistent feeling of sleep deprivation, Sandeep Jauhar gives an uncensored introduction to life as an intern.

Rating: 4/5

Cheating Death by Sanjay Gupta, MD

This is probably one of my favorite non-fiction books.  The information Dr. Gupta presents is absolutely fascinating.  Even people with no relation to the medical field should be able to appreciate the revolutionary discoveries that are presented in this book.  I highly recommend this to not just those in the medical field but everyone with an interest in innovative research that can save countless lives in the near future.

Rating: 5/5

Panic in Level 4 by Richard Preston

This is a great read for anyone interested in nonfiction literature.  The author presents the subject matter in a fashion that shows his passion for writing.  The topics range from trees and insects to the intricacies of the number pi to life-altering disease.

Rating: 4/5

Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders, MD

Fantastic book detailing some of the most difficult and intriguing cases of medicine, while providing some of the most successful methods of patient diagnosis. I highly recommend this to medical students, although it is written in a manner that any person would find it of interest.

Rating: 4.5/5

Glowing Genes: A Revolution in Biotechnology by Mark Zimmer, PhD

Although it isn’t specific to medicine, this is a great read for anyone interested in fluorescent proteins.  It gives the history of this fascinating area of biotechnology, and talks about the various different forms that have been developed. It’s actually been a while since I read the book, but the information I learned from it was fantastic.
Rating: 4/5

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

This book is not medical related but I absolutely loved it! I’ve always found the human mind and it’s memorization abilities to be fascinating.  Joshua Foer demonstrates that anyone, yes I said anyone, can drastically improve their memorization capabilities with some simple tips & tricks! He joins several mental athletes in their quest for greatness and shares his thoughts & feelings along the way.  This is a must-read for everyone.  Enjoy!

Rating: 5/5

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