Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER by Paul Austin

This book should be required reading for anyone thinking about applying to medical school, anyone who loves a medical student or resident, and anyone who has ever interacted with a physician in a gloomy emergency department in the middle of the night. Dr. Austin spent several years as a firefighter before returning to school and completing training as an emergency physician. His prose, while not always polished, candidly reflects the personal sacrifice that came with his late career transition and the challenges faced by his wife and children as he descended into the sometimes-surreal world of the emergency physician. While Dr. Austin’s account of his journey reflect his kind nature and gentle gratitude, his struggle to maintain his compassion and humanity in the face of the always-looming spectre of cynicism is the real message of this truly enjoyable book.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

As a sufferer of bipolar disorder, clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison has special insight into her subject matter. Her frank description of her initially-pleasant highs and her devastating lows is striking in its candour and clarity. To hear someone of her knowledge and intellect describe her struggle to consistently take medications, her difficulty in hearing herself described as mentally ill, and her fight to maintain meaningful relationships is to better understand any patient, family member, or friend contending with mental illness.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

When Lia Lee, a Hmong child of a refugee family in California, develops a severe seizure disorder, her family is thrust into contact with the American medical system. Lia’s doctors, specialists in epilepsy, dedicate themselves to treating her neurological condition with an armamentarium of medications and physical treatments. Lia’s community, however, strives to honour Lia’s soul through spiritual means, believing those touched by epilepsy to be shamans, specially connected to the spirit world. The conflict between the traditional medical world and the spiritual world grows increasingly intense as Lia’s epilepsy progresses. I first read this true account for a Medicine and Literature elective during medical school, and it has forever flavoured my interactions with patients from different cultural and religious backgrounds.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddharta Mukerjee

At over 500 pages, this heavy tome looks more like a textbook than a bit a light reading. I have to admit that I was daunted when I first picked up this book, and I put off starting it for months. Then, laid up after surgery with nothing to do but eat, sleep, and read, I finally dove in. As it turns out, The Emperor of All Maladies is anything but a textbook. Instead, it is a compelling narrative following cancer from its discovery in ancient times through to oncology wards and research laboratories, its modern battle grounds. Accessible to medical and non-medical readers alike, part of what I love so much about this book is the way it illuminates the winding path of medical research, including all the false starts, giant leaps, and disappointing stumbles that are part of any researcher’s life.

A Nurse’s Story: Life, Death, and In-Between in an Intensive Care Unit by Tilda Shalof
I first read this book several years ago, before I had begun my medical training. I still recall with great clarity Shalof’s poignant description of her first days as a nurse, the way she was overwhelmed at learning a dizzying array of tasks during those first days in an unsupportive environment where she was belittled for her university education (at the time, not required for nurses). Shalof describes a struggle any healthcare provider can relate to; she finds herself striving to provide the best patient care possible on a backdrop of sometimes-fractious relationships with fellow providers and families, healthcare cuts, and some of the scariest illnesses and injuries in the hospital. Her tale of coming into her own as a nurse in the intensive care unit provides a unique perspective on the often-untold story of the nurses who care for your friends and family members in their darkest hours.

About The Author

S. Luckett-Gatopoulos

Luckett is an Emergency Medicine resident at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON who hates her first name and loves long runs, bubble tea, and the feeling you get when you turn off your pager. Her work can be found at,, and .