The Best Medical Books for Your Library

When I was in medical school one of my professors told me that as medical students we learn more, and forget more, in four years than most people learn in a lifetime! I would say he was absolutely correct! The vast amounts of knowledge in the medical sciences makes picking the proper books to study from even more important. In general I recommend avoiding books that are likely to change frequently over time and stick with the ones that you’ll go back to repeatedly. Below are a few books I found particularly useful during my years as a student. They are organized by year with a brief explanation of why I chose each book.

Years 1 and 2

For most medical schools most of year one and year two are going to be about developing an understanding of normal anatomy and physiology and then what happens when things go awry!


  • Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease – Although expensive, this book has every single fact about pathology that you’ll need to know. It covers every organ system and disease in excruciating detail. It may be a bit too dense for everyday reading, but it is a great resource when you want to dig deep on a particular topic.
  • Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: An Introduction to Cardiovascular Medicine. This books was the result of a collaborative effort by Harvard faculty and medical students. It is extremely well written and easy to understand. I referenced this book numerous times not only during 1st and 2nd years but into the clinical years as well. If you want to know how old I am, I had the first edition and I think it is now in its 7th edition (geesh!).
  • Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple. Great for learning the basics of microbiology. It has all the important bugs and anti-microbials that you’ll need to know. Written using funny language and pictures that helps the info stick. If you need more than this for medical school then you’re probably headed towards a career in infectious disease.
  • First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. The "bible" for USMLE step 1 studying… Need I say more? But in all honesty it is a nice book, but you have to “work” with it. It could be organized better, but if you really sit down with it and fact check its information you will rock step 1.
  • Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. Again another pricey book, but one that will become part of your medical library throughout your training. It has everything you need to know about pharmacology and medications.
  • Duus’ Topical Diagnosis in Neurology: Anatomy, Physiology, Signs, Symptoms. I have the OG version from 2005, but it has been updated a few times since then. Excellent illustration of neurology and neuroanatomy. This is really a basic sciences course book, but I like it because it has a very heavy clinical bent to it, which prepares you well for the clerkships.
  • Renal and Electrolyte Disorders. Great book, highly recommended for understanding those darn pesky kidneys! And it’s relatively cheap so that’s a bonus!
  • Moore’s Clinically Oriented Anatomy. This book is essential… Especially for all the future surgeons in the room. I used this book along with the atlas (next on the list) to get a good grip on anatomy.
  • Color Atlas of Anatomy: A Photographic Study of the Human Body. I tried using Netter’s (for fear of having my head ripped off is a decent atlas), however I always found looking at drawings to be too unrealistic and idealized. This book is excellent because it has hundreds of photos of actual cadaveric dissections. It is still in my library today and I reference if frequently. Caution – avoid opening this book on subways, buses, or in front of non-medical family members as the pictures are quite graphic!
  • Pulmonology Review. Good review of pulmonary physiology. This book is also helpful when you get onto the wards as well.

Years 3 and 4

For most medical students you are now entering the world of actually practicing medicine. As you start to forget all the minutia you learned about in years one and two you can actually start learning what being a doctor is actually about (prior authorizations, just kidding, sort of…).


That’s my list and I’m sticking to it! Although there are tons of other great books out there I felt that these books were the best for my personal learning style. If you have any books that you absolutely love and cannot live without let me know and I’d be more than happy to add them to the list or better yet drop a comment in the comments section below.