There were many books I read in 2016 that I found relevant and helpful for the practice of medicine as modern physicians. Here were some of my favorites:
”How to Have a Good Day” by Caroline Webb (Crown Business, 2016).
With media headlines screaming about the surge in physician burnout, now is a good time to read “How to Have a Good Day.” The author, Caroline Webb , an Oxford- and Cambridge-trained economist, management consultant, and executive coach, shows how little tweaks in behavior can garner big results in both your workday productivity and your overall well-being. Her science-based techniques are wonderfully practical. She teaches you how to be more effective at work by establishing smart habits, setting appropriate priorities, and pumping up your workplace enthusiasm. She also shows you a path to stronger workplace relationships by learning how to better manage conflict, build rapport, and get the most out of others. My copy is dog-eared. I hope yours will be too.
”Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers” by Nancy Tomes (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
In this expansively researched book, Nancy Tomes, Ph.D., professor of history at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, documents the formation and consequences of the consumer economy in American medicine. Unlike other medical historians, who claim that patient consumerism emerged in the 1970s, Dr. Tomes argues that it developed “a full century earlier.” She dismantles the American ideal of the “golden age” of Norman Rockwell doctors and “deferential patients.” In eminently readable prose, Dr. Tomes analyzes numerous developments that have disrupted the doctor-patient relationship, including the growth of drug stores, the ever-changing medical insurance industry, and direct-to-consumer advertising. A skilled historian and writer, she doesn’t provide tidy answers to messy questions. She acknowledges that, despite many technological and social advances, particularly patient empowerment, there is no “magic bullet” to cure what ails our current medical system. This is a good choice for those looking to put digital medicine into historical context.
”Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life” by Amy E. Herman (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
How do we see? Not terribly well, according to Amy E. Herman . A lawyer and art historian, Ms. Herman has developed a course called “The Art of Perception” that has helped professionals from physicians to police officers hone their observation and communication skills. The course happens to be based on the class for students and residents of dermatology given by the eminent dermatologist Irwin Braverman, MD. A basic tenet of the book is that even highly intelligent professionals often experience “blindness.” She writes: “For no physiological reason, sometimes we fail to see something that’s in our direct line of sight. We overlook things when they are unexpected or too familiar, when they blend in, and when they are too aberrant or abhorrent to imagine.” Fortunately, correcting such “inattentional blindness” isn’t a gift, it’s a skill that improves with practice. The key is to acknowledge the “blind spots” in our perception and to become more detail oriented. Enter the art. Through analyzing dozens of works of art, Ms. Herman shows you how to “see what matters,” encouraging you to notice every detail and, equally important, every missing detail. The result: Over time, attention to detail becomes second nature, helping you to become more observant and fully present both in clinic and at home.
”When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, MD (Penguin Random House, 2016).
This posthumously published memoir by Paul Kalanithi, MD, is tormentingly beautiful. In May 2013, the 36-year-old neurosurgeon was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer; he was a nonsmoker. In a blink, Dr. Kalanithi would don the patient’s gown and relinquish his role as healer. “Instead of being the pastoral figure aiding a life transition, I found myself the sheep, lost and confused. Severe illness wasn’t life-altering, it was life-shattering,” he writes. Dr. Kalanithi battles the cancer valiantly for 2 years, during which time he writes this book and has a child with his wife, Lucy, also a doctor. As someone with a BA and MA in literature from Stanford and a MPhil from Cambridge, his writing is eloquent and compelling, in the vein of Atul Gawande, MD, and Jerome Groopman, MD. He voices his readers’ thoughts perfectly when he writes, “My life had been building potential, potential that would now go unrealized. I had planned to do so much, and I had come so close.” We ache for him, for his unrealized contributions to the worlds of medicine and literature, and for his loved ones. Yet, as Lucy writes in the epilogue, “this book is a new way for him to help others, a contribution only he could make.” When Breath Becomes Air will leave you both deeply saddened and deeply inspired.
Dr. Benabio is a partner physician in the department of dermatology of the Southern California Permanente Group in San Diego. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has no disclosures related to this column.