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5 Books All Aspiring Medical Students Should Read

Medical students are the unsung heroes of many healthcare industries around the world. They are fresh eyes and new ideas in an ever-challenging world of medicine. Whether in developing countries or developed, the experiences of these inspirational individuals make for some incredible reading. You may laugh, cry or some combination of the two. But if you want to become a medical professional, here are five top picks to keep you entertained on the journey.

Your Life In My Hands – Rachel Clarke

Formerly a television journalist, Briton Rachel Clarke decided to switch careers aged 29. For many doctors, medicine has been their only career. But for Clarke, she had thought that the experiences she had on the ground as a journalist would make another role pale in comparison. Hours “under fire in Congo’s killing fields”? They’d make medicine seem a walk in the park, right? Wrong. From the start of her engaging and charming book she makes it clear that the real challenges she has faced began in the wards of her training hospital.

Written with inimitable candidness, her honesty jumps off the page. You can’t help but like the narrator, and get drawn in to the story of her journey. From conversations with Prime Ministers about ‘water closets’ to letters to the national press decrying the state of affairs in the NHS that prompted national protests, the links between her current and past careers is undeniable. Perhaps because of this her voice is strong, her passion infectious and her perspective refreshing.

A must-read memoir for those wanting to switch up the monotony of the day job for the challenge of a lifetime: working in medicine.

The Real Doctor Will See You Now – Matt McCarthy

Skipping across the pond, Matt McCarthy‘s first year of med school is underlined with humour from the outset. His first line: “It started with a banana peel.” shows his bemusement at some of the experiences he had when starting out at Columbia University Medical Centre, New York.

He details his supportive relationships with his second-year adviser Baio, the trials and tribulations of night shifts and the fear associated with being ‘on call’. More importantly, though, he talks about what he has learned. Not from his university studies or even his supervisors…from the patients he cares for. Of course, like all of the books recommended here, there is a disclaimer at the start. It’s along the lines that whilst the stories are based upon clinical experience, in order to maintain the integrity of the Hippocratic oath sworn by doctors around the world, details have been changed to anonymise patients’ information. However, there is a reality to the words McCarthy writes, and a tenderness without saccharine sweetness in the manner in which he reveres his charges. In particular, the relationship with Benny who had taken up residence in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant is a pull on the heart-strings.

Definitely worth a read, and good for raising aspirations too – with his humble beginnings Matt is now an associate professor in medicine as well as serving on the Ethics Committee at a top NY hospital.

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The topic of this tome – death – is one that makes many uncomfortable. It is, however, a daily colleague of medical staff. As someone with a conflicted relationship with medicine – a tone of disappointment in an absent father who was brilliant as a physician and lacking in consistency as a parent runs throughout this book – Kalanithi introduces himself as someone who wanted to be a writer rather than a doctor from an early age. This would clearly have been a great career path, evidenced by his careful craftsmanship as his challenging yet compassionate tale unfolds.

Paul, it turns out, has passed away and this book is his last foray into the world: an examination of his experiences from both sides of the table as a neurosurgeon and a cancer patient. In his own words, “Life isn’t about avoiding suffering.” By turns delighting and devastating, this tale speaks of humanity and the search for knowledge and joy regardless of an insurmountable illness.

Harsh but true, doctors must grow used to death. What better way to learn than through the words of one who’s experienced both?

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor – Adam Kay

Adam Kay is no longer a doctor. After many expensive years of training, and eye-watering experiences to last a lifetime, he hung up his stethoscope in 2010. What remains of his medical career are an assortment of tidbits and anecdotes hastily scribbled down during his time as a Junior Doctor working for the NHS.

A rallying cry for his comrades who were still under the cosh from political attacks, Kay sees himself as a counterbalance to the negativity published about the health service. From the absurd to the sublime, this book beggars belief and will leave you with no questions where the phrase, “It takes all sorts to make the world go round.” comes from.

Witty footnotes and translations of jargon mean that Kay’s book is informative as well as compelling. Contrasts of days filled with filing and night shifts that would make your hair curl (or straight-up fall out) are intertwined. His conclusion? A very heavily worded letter to the Secretary of State for Health that, if you’ve made it thus far, you’ll be vehemently agreeing with and echoing with your own shortly after. See him read from his book here.

Life as a Medical Student: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A dose of reality from 30 medical students – Sihame Benmira

Catchy title, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. This book is aimed at the multitude of young people who know they want to become medical doctors but have little understanding of what the training entails. The provenance of many medical tomes is clear through the authors’ prominence – and yet, who better to hear from than those who have walked the path before you?

Benmira successfully tracks the changing emotions and experiences of those pursuing long years of study to achieve that coveted title: Doctor ____. The chapters are organised for first to fifth years, and one for those who are intercalating in a specified area. Sleepless nights and high workloads are common themes, but this is a gem for people requiring a dose of reality…or reassurance that it’s not just you going through it!

Becoming a Doctor: Studying Medicine in Germany

Germany is consistently one of the top countries for studying Medicine, with 32 of its Universities included in the QS World University Rankings by Subject for Medicine in 2020.

Top Universities in Germany for Medicine

According to the QS World University Rankings by subject, the best places to study medicine in Germany are:

  1. Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
  2. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  3. Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
  4. Technical University of Munich
  5. Universität Hamburg
  6. Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main
  7. Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
  8. Albert-Ludwigs-Universitaet Freiburg
  9. University of Göttingen
  10. Medizinische Hochschule Hannover

How much does it cost to study Medicine in Germany?

Non-EU students will pay around $3500 USD per semester, which is considerably lower than most other leading Universities in other countries. EU residents have to pay around $290 USD for their semesters. Many students can even apply to study for free if they are accepted onto a scholarship. It is reasonably cheap to live in Germany (compared to the UK or USA), and your annual living fees will be approx. $11,800 USD.

In Germany, a specialist earns around €80,000 per year on average. Physicians are also among the highest-paid doctors. With many years of experience, a physician in Germany can expect to around a lot more than €100,000 per year.

The enrolment process

The enrollment process involves submitting the following documents at the Office of Students Affairs “Studentensekretariat”:

Application Deadlines for Medicine Courses in Germany

Application deadlines for medicine courses change from university to university. In general, most medical schools in Germany apply two application falls

  • 15 July for the upcoming Winter Semester
  • 15 January for the upcoming Summer Semester

The Process of Becoming a Qualified Doctor

It takes typically 6-7 years to complete a Human medical degree in Germany, as the courses are all so varied and detailed. This is why medicine degrees from Germany are so highly regarded.

  • Stage 1: Pre-clinical phase

This stage is four semesters (two years) long and will introduce you to the key basics of natural sciences and medicine. It concludes with the first medical licensing examination.

  • Stage 2: Clinical phase

This is the main phase of the study (six semesters – three years) comprised of the core subjects, taught in lectures, practical courses, internships and seminars.

  • Stage 3: Practical year

This is one year of clinical training, in which you’ll be introduced to the practical aspects of surgery, internal medicine and an elective subject. This phase provides on-the-job experience to prepare you for your future profession.

  • State Examination

The last step in completing your medical degree in Germany is to pass the State Examination, a nationally standardised examination. After taking and passing the examination, you can apply for your medical license (Approbation) and begin working as a certified doctor.

Careers In Medicine In Australia

Congratulations on considering a career in medicine!

It is certainly a career path full of excitement that will offer endless opportunities for you, not just in Australia, but around the world. Before you get to the working world, however, studying medicine at university places you in an environment where you will discover the intricacies of the human body each day, but also have the chance to meet other medical students from around the country and join in the unique camaraderie that we all share. It truly is an intellectually challenging, socially engaging and incredibly fun course.

Medicine attracts an extremely diverse group of people from a wide range of backgrounds – be it undergraduate, postgraduate, rural, international, local, those coming straight from high school to those who have taken a few years to break from study or have decided to change their career path entirely – no matter what has brought them to our medical schools, their wide range of interests and experience make for a great group to study with.

With twenty medical schools in Australia, there are many paths that you may choose to follow for your studies, each of which offers a slightly different course and approach to studying medicine. This choice, along with your preferred entry type, is a very personal one, so it is important to make sure that you take the time to read through all the information available about each of the options.

AMSA wishes you all the best in negotiating the entry process and hopes to welcome you to the medical student family in the not too distant future.

Career paths into medicine

Medical school is just the first part of the journey towards becoming a fully-qualified doctor. Once you have completed your medical course, you become an intern in a hospital. Your internship lasts for one year and then you become a resident. You can remain a resident for as many years as you want. With further training, you can become a registrar (a specialist trainee) and then a consultant in a chosen field such as general practice, emergency medicine or surgery. A registrar is somebody who is still training in this area, while a consultant has qualified in this area. The training for this is conducted by separate colleges which each concentrate on a given speciality. Each of the training programs differ, so investigating each of the colleges individually is important.

Remember that when you do become a consultant and a fully-qualified doctor, the learning continues for the rest of your life. It’s part of the joy of studying medicine and being in such a dynamic profession.

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Becoming a Doctor: How Long Does It Take?

If you’re looking to work in the medical profession, you will no doubt be aware that this is not something that can happen overnight. Every role in healthcare, from nurses to consultants and everybody in between, needs to be highly trained to perform their job to the best of their ability, as often these professionals will be the ones making the decisions that will either make patients better or worse. Something that you might not be aware of is that in different countries, the same courses can take a different duration and by studying abroad, you may actually reduce the time of your training whilst also benefitting from taking in a new culture overseas whilst you are studying.

In this article, we explore how long it takes to study and train to become a doctor and a nurse in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Doctor?

Becoming A General Practitioner (GP)

A GP is a family doctor who should have a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the human body and health. Primary skills required by a GP are those of diagnosis as a lot of the time they will be presented with a patient who has some symptoms but may not know the underlying causes. The skill in working as a GP comes in recognising early signs of potentially serious symptoms and knowing who patients should be referred to for more specialist care. The benefits of working as a GP include a good salary, potential for ongoing work at a single location and regular working hours. Many GPs also work ‘out of hours’ services and do home visits when required. Training to be a GP varies widely from country to country, ranging from 9 years in Ireland and Australia to up to 14 years in New Zealand.

How Long Does It Take To Become A GP?


In addition to the usual 5-6 years for studying a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), you will also need to complete two foundation years working in a hospital, known as F1 and F2, and 3 years of vocational training before you can be classed as a GP. In total, this works out at around 10-11 years to become a GP in the UK.


In Ireland, Medical School lasts for 5 years. Following this GP training is a specialist programme which takes 4 years to complete. In total it takes 9 years to become a GP in Ireland.


In America, Medical School is slightly shorter than in the UK, with courses taking 4 years to complete, however, a bachelor’s degree is a pre-requisite, which also takes 4 years to complete. Following Medical School, graduates must undertake an internship or clerkship, commonly known as a residency. A residency is usually based in a hospital and is primarily a practical role, rather than textbook learning in the first two years of medical school. This usually lasts from 3-8 years, depending on your specialism. Following this, fellowships are further training opportunities for doctors to specialise further. In total, training to be a GP or Family Practitioner (FP) as they are often called in the USA usually takes 11 years.


In Canada, it is a pre-requisite for medical students to have undertaken an undergraduate degree prior to starting Medical School. This does not have to be related to medicine, although it may help your application if the bachelor’s degree is complementary to medicine such as Biology. Following at least 3 (typically 4) years of study for your undergraduate degree, you must complete 4 years of study at Medical School, followed by 2-5 years of postgraduate study as you focus on your specialism. Most specialisms last for 5 years, but Family Medicine is usually a 2-year programme, meaning that you can expect to spend at least 10 years studying to be a GP in Canada, although other specialisms could take up to 13 years.


In Australia, an MBBS can take between 4-6 years depending on where you study. Following this is a period of postgraduate study to focus on a specialism, such as training to be a General Practitioner (GP), which usually takes between 3-5 years to complete. This means that you could be a GP in just 9-11 years, but it is possible to be qualified in other specialisms after just 7 years of study and training.

New Zealand

New Zealand has only two Medical Schools, located at the University of Otago and the University of Auckland. Medical School lasts for 6 years in New Zealand, however, during your 6th year you are working in a hospital alongside qualified doctors, and are able to earn a small salary whilst in this position. Following this, graduates must work for two years as a House Officer. This is similar to an F1 and F2 in the UK, where the graduates work for 3 months at a time across different sections of the hospital. Following this, the junior doctors begin working towards their chosen specialism, which usually lasts between 4-6 years, taking the total time of study to 12-14 years.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Nurse?

Nursing is a great vocational degree with a high rate of employment after graduation. If you are interested in helping people and you get a buzz off of meeting people from a wide range of backgrounds then nursing might just be the perfect career for you. Typical courses range from 3-4 years, which upon completion you will be entered to sit an exam with that country’s nursing council. If you pass this exam then you will be a Registered Nurse (RN) and will be able to work as a fully-qualified nurse. Once you start working, you will learn a lot on the job, and there will also be opportunities for further development courses.

UK – 3 years

Ireland – 4 years

USA – Bachelor of Science in Nursing – 4 years

Canada – Bachelor of Science in Nursing – 4 years

Australia – Bachelor of Nursing – 3 years

New Zealand – Bachelor of Nursing – 3 years

To read our in-depth article about studying medicine in Germany, click here.