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The Prospective Medical Student’s Reading List

Year 12 is a great opportunity to get ahead on your reading for your medical personal statement – our writer Katie Hodgkinson has a list of suggestions to help you get started.


Everybody who tries to help you make your Personal Statement unique will tell you to read books that show you what medicine is like. The only problem is, the books recommended are the same for every prospective student, so actually writing about them in your statement doesn’t make you unique. It shows you’ve done the work, but it doesn’t make your insight into medicine any clearer than anyone else applying for the same spot.

The thing is, a lot of books can give you an insight into the patient perspective as well as teaching you what being a doctor is like. Sure, everyone recommends The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and the Max Pemberton books, but every personal statement reader sees them every single year. It’s practically assumed you’ve read them by now. Instead, why not try books that cover health dynamics in a fictional way? Many fictional books about illness and death are just as true to life as they would be if the content itself was actually non-fiction. 

Which fiction books should I read?

  1. The Loose Ends List (Carrie Firestone). This covers what it means to have a good death, surrounded by family and at a time of your choosing.
  2. Eat, Sweat, Play (Anna Kessel). This describes what it is like to be a woman in sport and how sport changes the lives of those involved- not just in terms of their physical health, but in terms of what sport can do to help your mental health and just how closely being fit is linked to having a lifestyle that makes you happy.
  3. Bad Pharma (Ben Goldacre). This frequently comes up on medical reading lists, but it’s actually more helpful in teaching you just how closely research, medicine and money are linked.
  4. Everything Everything (Nicola Yoon). Without spoiling the plot, this covers the life of a girl kept inside by her medical conditions and just how closely health is tied to our relationships and family dynamics.
  5. Unbecoming (Jenny Downham). Covering three generations of women, this covers the whole spectrum of what it means to see a person as a whole person, and not just as a condition.
  6. It Ends With Us (Colleen Hoover). Describing the thought processes behind domestic violence, this book shows us that seemly simple decisions are always altered by the emotions we don’t always see, something that commonly translates to medicine.
  7. Every Last Word (Tamara Ireland Stone). This describes what it is like for the protagonist to live with a form of OCD and still conduct her day to day life.
  8. Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig). Written by the author in the depths of an overwhelming depression, this book tackles mental health head on.

Pretty much any book can teach you about the human condition, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. The point of getting you to mention it on a personal statement or in an interview is to show that you’ve picked up on that, and that the patients you’ll see in a hospital have a life outside of that clinic room that you’ll never see. Reading beyond a textbook is an important way to strengthen your motivation for medicine as well as understand that people are more than the diagnosis we give them.

Which non-fiction books should I read?

In terms of teaching you what medicine will be like, there are few books more accurate than those written by doctors, but you’ll need to read a few of them to patch together a true idea of what practising is like. Classic books for teaching you these lessons are the ones everyone recommends, but they’re clichéd recommendations for a reason – because they’re true to life. These books include:

  1. Trust Me, I’m a Junior Doctor (Max Pemberton)
  2. Where Does It Hurt? (Max Pemberton)
  3. Blood, Sweat and Tea (Tom Reynolds)
  4. In Stitches (Nick Edwards)
  5. Complications and Better (Atul Gawande)
  6. The House of God (Samuel Shem)
  7. The Other Side (Kate Granger)
  8. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Oliver Sacks)
  9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

Words: Katie Hodgkinson

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