Put Down the Textbook, Pick up a Book: HMIG Recommended Readings for the Class of 2017

By HMIG Co-chairs Nicole Jedrzejko and Olga Kciuk – Class of 2017

The Humanities in Medicine Interest Group (HMIG) has been running a book club for medical students to meet and discuss unique medical books voted upon during each MF. From stillbirth to siltuximab to SARS, the HMIG Book Club has become a source for all medical bookworms to share new stories, reflect on challenging topics, and look forward to our collective growth as compassionately competent physicians. Here are our book reviews for the class of 2017’s MF1-MF4.


MF1 – “The Emperor of all Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee emperor[1]

From start to finish, this profoundly humane “biography” gives the history of cancer the depth and complexity it deserves. Dr. Mukherjee, a medical oncologist (also in Boston – something’s in the water over there), makes this non-fiction account read more like a literary thriller, with cancer as the ultimate antagonist against protagonists from the Persian Queen Atossa (whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breasts) to Einar Gustafson (also known as Jimmy of 1948’s Jimmy Fund, the first cancer fundraiser to use an adorable child with leukemia as a plea for donations). A fascinating book that will open your understanding regarding the long and tiresome war on cancer, and how this momentous disease has shaped human health history.

Specialties of interest: oncology (medical, surgical, radiation), medical microbiology & pathology, public health


MF2 – “Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures” by Vincent Lam

cover-bloodletting[1]If you like reading and you’re in med school, you’ve probably already heard of this Giller Prize-  winning account of the interwoven lives of medical-students-turned-physicians written by Toronto emergency physician Dr. Lam. “Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures” is a set of short stories regarding four Canadian characters, and though it was our only fiction book of MF1-MF4, it presented to us the greatest number of truths that we recognized as medical learners. This book garnered a heated discussion amongst our Book Club, as our deeper critique of Ming, Fitz, Sri, and Chen’s stories found many opportunities for frustration in medical education stereotypes and unprofessional conduct. Though we’d recommend this book to newcomers of medical literature, be warned. After all, these four went to U of T, and they do things differently there.

Specialties of interest: emergency medicine, psychiatry, general/thoracic surgery


MF3 – “Ghostbelly” by Elizabeth Heineman

Every new mother’s worst nightmare is drawn out in 320 pages of brutal honesty. As readers, we 1468731_544884035594816_136088158_n[1]found it is a testament  to Elizabeth Heineman’s own courage and resilience that reading this book was so painful, but necessary, to comprehend the tragedy of stillbirth. Heineman, a professor of history and gender at the University of Iowa, shares her tale of loss and repair as she describes the stillbirth of her second son, Thor. Everything from her son’s name choice to her complicated interactions with midwives, obstetricians, and family doctors are presented to the reader as unaltered fact, asking us to bear witness to her suffering that reflects those of millions of women and families every year. Why we recommend this book? Heineman’s examination of the home-birth process and maternal healthcare industry in the US is informative and eye-opening. Reading “Ghostbelly” forces you to confront your own assumptions and biases in how to support pregnancy and shocking loss as future physicians, and we are all thankful to Elizabeth and Thor for providing that.

Specialties of interest: obstetrics & gynecology, family medicine, interprofessional care


MF4 – “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

91E6exaOufL[1]Dr. Gawande, a general surgeon practicing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has written books filled with all the grace and self-reflection we aspire to have one day. His newest book tackles a topic he has been struggling with throughout his profession: end-of-life care. Aging and death are inevitable, but the way we manage our patients and their families has to change. Alleviating suffering and accepting quality over quantity of life has been a big theme of MF4, and “Being Mortal” perfectly compliments our palliative care learning objectives. Dr. Gawande will bring you through patients’ stories of hospitalization, hospice care, and medicine’s role during death in a way that is humbling and inspirational. Our book club discussed what quality of life means to each individual patient, and creative solutions around the care of the elderly (e.g. the merits of animal therapy). Don’t be surprised if this book is recommended by our curriculum as we embark on half-day home visits, Pro Comp sessions on breaking bad news and end-of-life care, and tutorial cases like Dorothy Little.

Specialties of interest: internal medicine, palliative care, family medicine, anesthesiology




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