The Scrubbed Up Book Review

Updated: May 7, 2020

By Malak Metwally


After those late nights of studying and draining days of lectures, we can often forget why we started studying medicine in the first place. Here are some superb books that will give you that little bit of inspiration to keep going.


1. War Doctor: Surgery on the front line- David Nott

‘Harrowing, riveting, inspiring’


In 1993, David Nott swapped his life in London for the hospitals of war-torn Sarajevo. This would be the start of a remarkable career in the field of humanitarian medicine. From Darfur to Aleppo, Nott has performed life-saving surgeries in the world’s most austere environments.

This memoir is riveting, entirely absorbing and will leave you feeling inspired. Yet, Nott doesn’t shy away from the harrowing and heart-breaking events he has experienced first-hand. He writes an honest and raw account of what life is like in areas of the world that are repeatedly dehumanized in the media.

At its core, this is the story of a man’s all-consuming passion to help.


2. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor- Adam Kay

‘Hilarious, heart-breaking, enthralling’


You’ve probably already heard about this book. It’s pretty hard to avoid and so, the chances are you’ve already read it.

But for those who haven’t, I can assure you that this book is worthy of all the hype and publicity that it continues to receive.

Adam Kay does not hold back as he delves into the draining, tumultuous and yet, rewarding journey of being a junior doctor. Told through a hilarious series of patient encounters, this book is utterly enthralling and entirely heart-breaking.


3. ‘Twas the nightshift before Christmas- Adam Kay

‘Poignant, witty and heart-warming’


Following on from the success of ‘This is Going to Hurt’, Adam Kay recounts his time as a doctor working through the festive season.

This is an ode to the healthcare workers who spend their Christmas day labouring on the frontlines of the NHS.

(I highly recommend listening to this as an audiobook which Kay narrates himself.)

4. Prison Doctor- Dr Amanda Brown

‘Honest, moving, thrilling’


Amanda Brown had spent her career developing and working in her own GP surgery. However, when the government announced that major changes were to be made, she realised that she couldn’t accept them and so, swapped her job as a community GP for medicine behind bars.

From Wormwood Scrubs to Bronzefield jail- Europe’s largest women-only prison- Brown embarked on a thrilling journey driven by compassion and curiosity.

This memoir opens your eyes to a field of medicine not often discussed and one that is, perhaps, surrounded by stigma and misunderstanding.

Brown recounts the gripping and devastating tales of the inmates as her empathy radiates through to create an inspiring story.


5. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks

‘Fascinating, curious, brilliant’


What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be sane?

Told through a collection of fascinating case studies, Dr Oliver Sacks recounts the tales of patients suffering from neurological disorders that have robbed them of the person they once were.

This book explores the cruel, complex and utterly fascinating intricacy that is the human mind.


6. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer- Siddhartha Mukherjee (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

‘Interesting, clever, masterpiece’


This book was recommended to us in a first-year cancer lecture.

For more than five thousand years, humans have lived with and suffered because of cancer. The word itself has become notorious, scary and often, dark. The biography of cancer explores the journey between humanity and the disease. From loss and suffering to resilience and determination- humanity and cancer have a tumultuous history. Mukherjee recounts this as he takes us through the victories and setbacks of centuries fighting the ongoing “war against cancer.”

7. When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalanithi

‘Touching, thought-provoking, eloquent’


This is a moving memoir of a young neurosurgeon who becomes faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis. One day a doctor with aspirations, the next a patient watching as his future disintegrates before him. This book eloquently and courageously tackles the age-long question: what makes life worth living?

In this touching account, Kalanithi explores the fragility of mortality and, not only what it means to die, but what it means to be alive.


8. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

‘Intriguing, meaningful, humble’


What does it mean to do no harm? What does it mean to take that oath?

Must we avoid treatments that carry risks and that, themselves, could potentially cause harm?

These questions are particularly poignant for the field of neurosurgery, where procedures often carry significant risks.

Henry Marsh delves into the precise and delicate art of neurosurgery as he explores what it is like to make these intense decisions day in and day out.

From the triumphs to the disturbing and heart-breaking calamities that shape the career and life of a brain surgeon.

9. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End- Atul Gawande

‘Brave, vulnerable, gripping’


There are two things that we, as humans, will inevitably face and that define us as being mortal. Those are ageing and death.

Gawande explores this through a series of captivating patient and family stories. This book reveals the struggles of a profession that faces the dichotomy of life and death daily in an honest and vulnerable way.

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