Living Library

A library of physical books - novels, poetry, memoir - that comment on the human experience, curated to appeal to medical students, residents and practitioners.

Click here to Go to Living Library

Canadians are justly proud to have Osler in our pantheon of medical leaders. He often proclaimed that physicians and students of medicine should read widely as a path towards good practice, teaching and a meaningful life. He gave advice on what to read. We try to carry on that tradition by asking clinical colleagues and students to make similar recommendations or by donating favorite non-technical books to this informally run library.

About us

The Health Humanities Group in collaboration with the Cumming School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, and the Student Advising and Wellness office has created an informal library of non-technical books that we hope will appeal to students, residents and faculty. Examples might include novels (Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone), memoirs (Paul Kalinithi’s When Breath Becomes Air) and reflections (many of Oliver Sacks’ books).

Brief reviews of books we like in the Living Library

  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  Knopf 2009

A novel about the practice of medicine in both developing world and the US.  Peopled by complex characters who happen to be physicians.  Describes doctors who use their greatest weaknesses to survive and contribute to reduce suffering.  Includes phrases, like those in Hippocrates’ Oath, to live by e.g. "What treatment is administered via the ear"?

Abraham Verghese is an infectious disease specialist currently at the Stanford School of Medicine.  Born in Ethiopia in 1955 to parents from Kerala, India, he emigrated to the U.S. and initially cared for patients swept up in the early days of the AIDS crisis.  He has written eloquently about the practice medicine and the human condition in memoirs, novels and articles for respected American popular magazines.  In 2016, the American National Endowment for the Humanities quoted him as saying that the “burden on the physician-writer is to go beyond just describing - and to find meaning” in the “extraordinary, intimate moments in the lives of others”.



  • Portfolio to Go: 1000+ Reflective Writing Prompts and Provocations for Clinical Learners by Allan D. Peterkin, MD

Want to make your CaRMS application grab readers by the throat?  Want to become a better physician by learning how to write about your experiences reflectively. Let Allan show you how with lots of writing prompts organized by kind of experience e.g. how you might think about patients as persons, equity in healthcare, finding joy in your career, being or becoming well yourself, teamwork.


  • In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish MD

This memoir by a young physician reflects on her care following a near-death from hemorrhagic shock. The book is peppered with insights, based on comparing her experience as a critical care physician with those of being a critical care patient. Lying in an ICU bed, Dr. Awdish thinks back to the biomedical way she had viewed her patients & the casual remarks she makes in their presence, comparing this to how she feels as a frightened patient under the medical gaze of her colleagues. An example of her many insights, this one after an encounter with a resident: "We aren’t trained to see our patients, we are trained to see pathology.  The true relationship is forged between the doctor and the disease.  This bond is disclosed when we re-encounter these diseases: we greet them respectfully as the worthy adversaries they are".

  • Medicine: A Graphic Memoir by Jillian Horton MD & GMB Chomichuk MD

Dr. Brian Goldman of CBC Radio fame writes: “Medicine is gritty, uncompromising and authentic.  It’s an accurate reflection of medical culture”.