More Advice You Don’t Need: Textbooks

Hello troopers! Condolences on getting into med school, if you have. Don’t give up on your dream, if you haven’t (but maybe consider an easier dream).

Today we’re talking tomes. Med textbooks cost several arms and legs, and the reality is you won’t be needing every single one of them. In this post I will attempt to dispense advice on which ones I think are absolutely crucial, and which ones you can borrow or rent or even do without.

Without further ado,

Crucial Basics

Anatomy. Here we use Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the pictures (internationally renowned) in conjunction with Last’s Anatomy for the descriptions. You will need these for the rest of your life.

*Just FYI – those homemade textbooks the Anatomy department sells you in first and second year are actually useful for passing anatomy, but utterly useless for the rest of your live.

Physiology. The Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology is recommended, but there are other like the Ganong that are probably just as good. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I didn’t spend much time reading Physiology textbooks, because they’re pretty much all long-winded and boring (f you know of one that isn’t, please leave a recommendation in the comments!) but you absolutely have to know how systems work and these texts are the way to do that.

Pathology. Here we use the Robbins and Cotran Pathological Basis of Disease. It’s long-winded, but you should get it because after you learn how systems work you have to learn how they fail, which helps you figure out how to fix them.

Crucial basics only get more relevant as you advance in your career, and you will constant be using them as references. Yes, the editions will constantly be updated but the core material will remain the same. Think of these books as investments in your future.

Clinical Necessities

Textbook of Clinical Practice. Such as the McLeod’s. Highly indispensable book, full of instructions and techniques for histories and examinations. You will use this from third to final year. Even once you’re confident in your skill set, the McLeod’s is still a book you turn to from time to time.

Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. I love small books that pack a punch. The OHCM is first class for information dispensed in bite sized portions that still cover all the necessary basics. I see residents walking around with this book (it’s pocket-sized too). Nuff said.

Textbooks of Surgery, Obstetrics/Gynaecology and Paediatrics. Yes, all three. Because when you’re in school they’re incredibly valuable.

For surgery, we use the Bailey and Love’s Short Practice of Surgery as a reference text (have a love/hate relationship with this book – it is huge and long-winded but surprisingly fun to read). A pocket-sized textbook for surgery is also useful. I prefer the Surgical Recall (and Advanced Surgical Recall), but some think it’s inadequate. I found it extremely adequate for my senior surgery rotation and remarkably easy to read.

For OB/GYN we use locally published textbooks. The Textbook of Obstetrics by Roopnarinesingh is perfectly tailored to our exams and clinical setting, despite being several years old. Similarly the Textbook of Gynaecology by Bharat Bassaw was written by most of the people who teach and test us. Basically? Get these books.

For paediatrics, we use Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics, but I think any well-respected textbook would do for paeds. Just make sure to pick one that you’re comfortable with because you will most likely end up teaching yourself this subject.

Nice Knowing You

Your first and second year textbooks of Histology, Embryology and Pharmacology don’t get much use later in your clinical years. Or maybe it was just me? Once you’ve learned the material and passed the exams anything else you need to know can be answered with a quick Google.

These books can be rented or bought and resold to junior students: DiFiore’s Histology, Langman’s Embryology, the Rang and Dale pharmacology text. Don’t get too attached to those names.


Any specialty textbook: Ophthalmology, ENT, Dermatology, Rheumatology, Orthopedics etc etc.

You can borrow all of these for the duration of your rotation. Even if you’re planning a career in the field, five years down the line (when you actually start your residency) you’re going to need an updated edition anyway.

That concludes our session, I think. Questions? Disagreements? Leave ’em in the comments. Good luck my friends. And happy studying.