10 medical memoirs for fans of This is Going to Hurt

Read and loved Adam Kay's This is Going to Hurt or Christie Watson's The Language of Kindness? Leah Hazard, author of Hard Pushed: A Midwife's Story, visits Caboodlers' Corner to share her top ten must-read medical memoirs.

Tell us which memoirs you've enjoyed in the comments below.

Leah Hazard

"Medical memoirs have it all: humour, heroics, mystery and mastery. Readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for stories of those who heal and care in the NHS and beyond, and the publishing industry has been all too happy to accommodate that interest with a steady stream of fascinating tales from doctors, nurses and (*raises hand*) midwives. I was inspired by medical memoirs long before I sat down to write Hard Pushed, and it’s a pleasure to share some of my favourites with you."



Your Life in My Hands

Your Life in My Hands: A Junior Doctor's Story by Rachel Clarke

This memoir was born in the fraught furore surrounding the junior doctors’ strike when Clarke, a junior doctor herself, became an ambassador and vocal defender of her profession. Clarke describes the joys and challenges of medicine as well as the struggle to provide good care at personal cost. Her passion is evident in every word, and the book remains a testament to the dedication of medics whose ‘junior’ epithet does no justice to their level of commitment and expertise.


Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness by Ben Watt

A rare memoir from the other side of the health service, Patient tells the story of Watt’s long-term admission to hospital after contracting a rare but deadly disease. Watt, perhaps better known as one half of the dance/pop duo Everything But the Girl, writes with great insight and humour about the strange experience of being subsumed by the NHS for months at a time; he bears witnesses to the eccentricities of the hospital’s internal culture, writes with poignancy about his own emotional challenges and ultimately reminds us of the people at the very heart of the NHS: the patients.

Seven Signs of Life

Seven Signs of Life: Stories from an Intensive Care Doctor by Aoife Abbey

Abbey’s book stands out among the current crop of doctor-penned memoirs for its thoughtful, compassionate reflections on life in Intensive Care. Abbey presents the usual case studies with an unusual depth of feeling and evident love for those in her care. She may be in the earlier stages of her career, but the author writes with a maturity and vocational fervour well beyond her years. An unsung classic of the genre.

War Doctor

War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line by David Nott

One can’t help but be impressed, humbled and genuinely overawed by Nott’s surgical career. After honing his skills and reaching the height of his profession in the UK, Nott embarked on a decades-long string of engagements providing surgical care and training in some of the world’s most treacherous warzones. His numerous trips to Syria generate some heart-stopping stories from the operating theatre, but perhaps the most affecting part of the story is Nott’s soul-searching account of his own descent into psychological disarray after years of witnessing man’s brutal inhumanity to man.

How to Treat People

How to Treat People: A Nurse at Work by Molly Case

Case earned a first-class degree in Creative Writing and English Literature prior to embarking on her nursing career, and it shows. Now working as a cardiac nurse specialist, Case's memoir is a moving love letter to her profession, written with tenderness and style. The illness of the author’s father is interwoven with affecting tales from the NHS frontline, and by the end of the book, the reader, too, feels embraced by Case’s love and care. I look forward to more work from this gifted storyteller.

Spiritual Midwifery

Spiritual Midwifery: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Ina May Gaskin

Part memoir, part handbook, part historical document, Spiritual Midwifery is the ‘Bible’ for many midwives around the world. Gaskin tells the story of her role in founding The Farm, a commune for like-minded, peace-loving souls in 1970s Tennessee. Together with a small group of lay midwives, Gaskin began to welcome babies into the world with love and great skill. Spiritual Midwifery shares a few of these early birth stories as well as clinical tips and some fascinating insights into the ongoing conflict between woman-centred midwifery and mainstream obstetrics.

Baby Catcher

Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent

Another book that inspired me on my journey towards midwifery, Baby Catcher represents author Peggy Vincent's reflections on her long career in California’s East Bay area. Vincent writes with compassion and keen intelligence about her clients’ births and her uphill struggle to earn the respect of the medical community. It's worth reading this book just for 'Appendix 1: Pearls of Wisdom', which is a pragmatic list of midwifery maxims and advice.

The Midwife's Tale

The Midwife's Tale by Nicky Leap & Billie Hunter

This book is subtitled 'an oral history from handywoman to professional midwife', and The Midwife’s Tale is all that and so much more. Leap and Hunter weave together oral histories from the early 1900s to the birth of the NHS in 1948, providing a fascinating perspective on the way midwifery and social attitudes to childbirth have evolved into our present culture. Not an individual memoir as such, but a chorus of powerful voices from the past.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air: What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death by Paul Kalanithi

This is the heartbreaking and deservedly acclaimed memoir of an oncologist-turned-patient. Dr Kalanithi was at the start of a promising career when terminal cancer cut his life cruelly short. Kalanithi writes with dazzling intelligence and tender emotion about his early years and his final months. I finished this book on a night-shift break, crying hot tears in the dark for the author and for the many patients who will never benefit from the gift of his care.

Do No Harm

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

Marsh is a giant of neurosurgery, and this memoir guides the reader through his dazzling career. There are meditations on the strangeness of operating on the brain, the epicentre of human identity and function, and reflections on the failures and vulnerabilities that dog even the most successful doctors. While there are plenty of clinical anecdotes to satisfy more medically-minded readers, the book is also written in an eloquent, accessible style that makes this a modern classic.


Hard Pushed

About Leah Hazard's Hard Pushed:
Life on the NHS front line is tougher than you could imagine. Marathon shifts, endless birth complications, staffing shortages, pushy families, panicking mothers – and that's a quiet Thursday afternoon.

But the strength and camaraderie of the women working under such intense pressure is a beautiful thing. Together, they must withstand one of the world's most difficult job, one that produces moments of pure, absolute joy and – terrible, heart-wrenching grief.

Through the experienced eyes of Leah Hazard, we meet women from all walks of life: the scared fifteen-year-old whose baby could be months premature, the same-sex couple whose child will be a miracle of modern medicine, the woman giving birth in a room drenched in essential oils and love, and the mother-to-be whose tale of exploitation and endurance has carried her thousands of miles to Lea'’s ward.


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Post a comment below telling us about your favourite memoirs. We'll pick one winner to receive a £20/€25 National Book Token after Thursday 1st August 2019.

Congratulations, Frances!

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