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Recommended Reading for Pre-Health Students

Are you interested in pursuing a career in health care and love reading? This list contains books written by renowned authors in the healthcare field and recommended by pre-health advisors across the country.

If you know of additional compelling books that would interest pre-health students, please tell us. Send your recommendations, along with an explanation of why you think they should be added to our list, to Eugene Rubin, pre-health advisor at the Center for Health, Human Development, and Creativity, at If you’d like to join a pre-health book club here at MMC, notify Mr. Rubin, and include one or two books from our list that you would like to explore.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
by John M. Barry

At the height of World War I, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. Great Influenza provides a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. As Barry concludes, “The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that … those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.”

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
by Atul Gawande

Gawande, a renowned surgeon, writer, public health figure, and assistant administrator for global health at USAID, personalizes the practice of medicine and shows through personal experiences how the main focus of medical practice always boils down to one person: The patient.

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
by Atul Gawande

This collection of essays was written while Gawande was a resident in general surgery. It explores the fallibilities and uncertainties of physicians-in-training and how these issues are dealt with at all levels and in a personal and truthful manner.

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

Kalanithi was a renowned surgeon and best-selling writer who died in 2015. The book delves into his journey as he transformed from a neurosurgeon to a patient facing his own mortality.

Mountains Beyond Mountains
by Tracey Kidder

Kidder, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, tells the story of Paul Farmer, who found his life’s calling while in medical school and proceeded to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most around the globe.

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to receive an MD. She was soon joined by her younger sister, and, together, the Blackwells founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women. In this book, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph as she explores the sisters’ allies, enemies, and enduring partnership.

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimaging Chronic Illness
by Meghan O’Rourke

A silent epidemic of chronic illnesses afflicts tens of millions of Americans. In this book, renowned writer Meghan O’Rourke investigates the elusive category of “invisible” illness that encompasses autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and now long COVID, synthesizing the personal and the universal to help all of us through this new frontier. She draws on her own medical experiences as well as a decade of interviews with doctors, patients, researchers, and public health experts.

Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague
by David K. Randall

On March 6, 1900, the bubonic plague took its first victim on American soil: Chinese immigrant Wong Chut King. Empowered by racist pseudoscience, officials rushed to quarantine Chinatown—but when corrupt politicians mounted a cover-up to obscure the threat, it fell to federal health officer Rupert Blue to save San Francisco and the nation from a gruesome fate. Black Death at the Golden Gate is a spine-chilling saga of virulent racism, human folly, and the ultimate triumph of scientific progress.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying
by Nina Riggs

Poet and essayist Nina Riggs was just 37 years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a year, she received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal. In her book, she explores motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory and asks: What makes a meaningful life when one has limited time?

by Angela Saini

In this book, acclaimed science writer Saini delves into cutting-edge scientific studies to uncover a fascinating new portrait of women’s brains, bodies, and roles in human evolution.

Superior: The Return of Race Science
by Angela Saini

At a time when racialized nationalisms are a resurgent threat throughout the world, Superior is a rigorous, much-needed examination of the insidious and destructive nature of race science—and a powerful reminder that, biologically, we are all far more alike than different. 

Under the Skin
by Linda Villarosa

An award-winning writer at the New York Times, Villarosa provides an insightful and in-depth look at why Black people live sicker and die quicker as a result of inequities in the American health-care system.