Medical authors I have been reading

In several blogs over the years, I have talked about what I am reading and in return many of you have been generous in sharing books you have found inspiring and entertaining. I always get more reading done this time of year because in warmer weather it is hard to golf or run and read! I realized that four of my most recent books were all by medical authors, and all very relevant to our times, our profession and our role as medical educators. I suppose it is a bit of a busman’s holiday, but so be it. I highly recommend all these books.

Many of you will already have read Dr. Jillian Horton’s book: We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing. Horton is an internist on faculty at the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba and recipient of the 2020 Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada Gold Humanism Award.

No less than Alan Alda states, “Her writing is brilliant. And the story of her burnout as a medical doctor is just heartbreaking enough to keep you longing for the resolution you know is coming.”

Two themes are common to all these four books (you’ll find the other three titles below). The first are the challenges of the culture of medicine that include the competitive and hierarchical nature of the profession, as well as the sexism and racism experienced by its members—and how all of this harms both us and our patients. The second theme is hope! It comes through in all four books and in the case of Horton’s book, in the form of authenticity and humor.

I was in Nashville, Tennessee for the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) annual meeting, Learn, Serve, Lead, in November and while there picked up Every Deep-Drawn Breath: A Critical Care Doctor on Healing, Recovery, and Transforming Medicine in the ICU by Dr. Wes Ely. He’s a pulmonologist and critical care physician in Nashville, holds an endowed chair in medicine, and is a physician-scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

I found this an inspiring story of a physician who used passion for the people he cared for every day, research and evidence, perseverance and a remarkable ability to challenge orthodoxy to ultimately change ICU care around the world. While he and his story were new to me, I quickly learned he is legendary among ICU doctors, and I highly recommend his story.

The third book is Black Man in a White Coat, by Dr. Damon Tweedy. Tweedy is graduate of Duke University and a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center. The first chapter starts with how early in his first year of medicine he was asked by a professor who noticed him between lectures, “Are you here to fix the lights?”

I read this book as part of the CoM Division of Social Accountability’s Journal Club; it was their choice for Black History Month. I learned about the dual challenges of being black in a largely white profession and the disproportionate health burdens faced by black people. I learned even more in the book club discussion, and highly recommend the book club to everyone at the CoM.

Oprah said about this book, “In this fascinating, heartbreaking memoir, Tweedy documents his experiences as an African American doctor in a medical system that can be ‘just as sick as its patients.’”

The last book is Long Walk Out of the Woods: A Physician’s Story of Addiction, Depression, Hope, and Recovery, by Dr. Adam B. Hill, a pediatric palliative care physician (I’ve always thought this must be the toughest job in medicine). He works at Indiana University’s Riley Hospital for Children.

Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says of the book, “Exposing the stigmatizing and illogical aspects of the culture of medicine when it comes to caring for our own, this book has the power to transform an already shifting culture and should be required reading for all the professionals in the medical field.”

I like the “already shifting culture” in this last quote because it points to the second theme I identified: hope. Despite the weighty nature of all these books and the challenges in medicine that they expose, I finished every book with a sense of hope and more ideas of ways in which I can contribute to change for our profession and our patients. All four authors clearly love their profession and are passionate about patient care.

As I said, I recommend all four books and look forward to your thoughts on these as well as your suggestions for others. As always, my door is open and I am always happy to talk with faculty, staff and learners about our College of Medicine (or running, golf, the Raptors, Blue Jays, or even the Leafs)!