I am a voracious reader. I read books like I’ll starve to death if I don’t consume the stories within. On a good week, I’ll make my way through a few hundred pages, reading for a bit each day while I drink my morning coffee and again at night before I go to sleep.
I read a little bit of everything: young adult fiction, graphic novels, sci-fi, and a ton of nonfiction about pretty much any subject that catches my interest.
So even though I write about healthcare for a living, I still enjoy reading about it just for fun. And this past year, three books in particular stuck with me long after I finished their final pages.
Here are 3 healthcare books that changed the way I think about health, healthcare, and the ways of modern medicine.
1. The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital (Alexandra Robbins)
The concept of The Nurses—following four emergency room nurses for a year as they work at several hospitals in an unnamed US city—intrigued me.
I think what drew me to this book was that I realized just how little I really knew about the world of nursing—even though I have interviewed nurses countless times for work, and regularly talk about this subject with one of my cousins, who is a PICU nurse.
But, as I found page-by-page in The Nurses, this is a field that is so wide and varied, a person could spend an entire year side-by-side with several professionals in this field and still only scratch the surface of their world.
Even though all identifying details are meticulously scrubbed from its pages to protect the privacy of both providers and patients, this book brought me into the lives of these four nurses. I felt like I was right there watching them face their own triumphs and tragedies, while still managing to be there for every patient who needed them.
2. The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives (Theresa Brown)
The thing that intrigued me the most about this book was that it was written by a nurse. While The Nurses is ultimately a piece of investigative journalism, The Shift felt more like an intimate snapshot of a single day in the life of one specific nurse.
I’ll admit that I was hesitant to start this book—and often found myself waiting until I was in the right frame of mind before picking it up and reading another chapter.
Perhaps this was because it took place in an oncology ward. I found myself growing attached to Theresa’s patients, some of whom were very, very sick. I was afraid that each page brought me closer to the very sad—but very real—possibility of death.
And as I made my way through this book, I realized that if I am this attached and this touched as a distant, removed reader, how are nurses able to make it through this journey each and every day?
3. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Sheri Fink)
I read Five Days at Memorial at my coworker Sammi’s recommendation. Like The Nurses, it is, at its core, a work of investigative journalism. But like The Shift, it is an intensely emotional read.
The book chronicles the events that occurred at a hospital in New Orleans during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The medical staff there had to make life-or-death decisions in the face of power outages, flooding, dwindling supplies, and the threat of violence as the storm receded and chaos broke out in its wake.
Months after finishing this book, I still feel like I’m not actually done with it. I went into it with very little knowledge of the story that would unfold page-by-page. I had no prejudgement about the medical team’s actions. I decided I would let the facts guide my opinion. If only it was that easy.
As I read these three books I discovered something that I think I already knew deep down: Nothing about health and medicine is simple. And that makes the work that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers do so much more awe-inspiring to me.
In their own way, each of these healthcare books showed me just how true that is.