Weekend Reads: 5 Books That Changed My Views of Healthcare

It’s been a cold, rainy week in the Triangle with the kind of days that make you want to sit by the fire with a hot drink and a good book. I love to read and consider libraries sacred spaces. I often like to read more than one book at a time; sometimes on my Kindle and other times a good old-fashioned book. There’s something satisfying about flipping through the pages. I’ve also discovered the joy of listening to audiobooks during my commute plus it’s a great way to fit a book into a busy schedule. I’d like to share some amazing books that changed my understanding of healthcare and public health with the complexities of politics, geography, race, culture, economic status and other social determinants of health. They mainly focus on the United States except for #4.

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
    by Rebecca L. Skloot

    If you haven’t read this one yet, please put it at the top of your reading list. It was very illuminating to learn about the experiences of this African American family and how one woman and her family have had such a huge impact on science and clinical care around the globe. I read this book during grad school in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University, so I was able to see and experience some of the places described. The movie starring Oprah Winfrey, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Rose Byrne and other talented actors has amazing reviews. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s on my watchlist.

  2. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
    by Anne Fadiman

    This was required reading for my RN to BSN program at San Francisco State University which opened my eyes to healthcare beyond hospital walls. It makes one realize the importance of understanding and communicating about cultural beliefs and practices that may impact adherence. The lessons are relevant for addressing chronic diseases in various settings, whether you’re seeing patients in the hospital or working in the community.

  3. Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America
    by Laurie Kay Abraham

    The complexity of navigating the healthcare system is a recurring theme, even today. This book is set in Chicago and follows an African American family dealing with socio-economic pressures and issues with accessing the care they need. The book summary raises the question about the link between poverty and illness: “When people are poor, they become sick easily. When people are sick, their families quickly become poorer.”

  4. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World
    by Tracy Kidder

    Paul Farmer is a rock star in the public health and global health world. This book tells his story and a big part takes place in Haiti. His passion as a physician and anthropologist shines through his work: treating people with infectious diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS and advocating for human rights and social equality. His organization Partners In Health, has since expanded to multiple countries including Rwanda, Malawi and Sierra Leone. They also work with the Navajo Nation in the United States. It’s important to include the United States in conversations about global health; there are still many populations that face numerous challenges despite the scientific, technological and social advances in the past century.

  5. County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital
    by David A. Ansell

    This book was very hard to put down. It’s a powerful story about a physician’s coming of age experiences at Cook County Hospital from his residency to becoming an attending. He paints a detailed picture of the history of the hospital and the city as well as the political and financial challenges in delivering care to an underserved community in Chicago. David Ansell is also a social epidemiologist and has written other books on inequality.

    Currently reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddharta Mukerjee which is very engaging especially because I work in oncology. Can’t wait to watch the PBS film with Producers Ken Burns and Barak Goodman.

P.S. If you shop on Amazon, consider using AmazonSmile and choosing the Cancer Patient Education Network (CPEN) as your charitable organization.
Disclosure: I serve on the Executive Board of CPEN and will not receive any financial compensation.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Yvonne Angwenyi