book-lgDr. Jan Shoenberger has been a long time leader in medical education. She is the Program Director at LAC+USC Emergency Medicine Residency and is dual boarded in Emergency Medicine and Palliative Care. She is equally well known for her involvement with EM:RAP, Essentials of Emergency Medicine, HIPPO EM, ALiEM, Emergency Medicine Abstracts, and multiple other courses and electronic resources. Beyond being a talented educator, many of her colleagues see her as an inspiration and a role model. We are pleased to have her contribute to this edition of the ALiEM Bookclub: Beyond the ED.

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.
– W. Somerset Maugham

Jan Shoenberger

Dr. Jan Shoenberger (@ShoenbergerJan)

Let’s be honest. Medicine is a difficult job. Why? Medicine is not a physically demanding job. We don’t operate jackhammers all day or stand on asphalt with hot tar repaving roads in the 100-degree heat. We don’t deal with clogged sewer lines or work with toxic substances. But, our work is tough in different ways. We work with demanding customers in a stressful environment where the stakes couldn’t be higher. At the end of our workday, it is important that we are able to find a way to escape, and for me, reading is on the list of things that allows me to do that.

I have always been a big reader. My parents like to talk about how I started reading at an age younger than most. One thing I love to do every so often as an adult is to spend a little time looking at the spines of the books on my bookshelves at home and remember all of the years and phases of my life when I read them. I have always found reading to be a mechanism for learning of course, but I feel that reading also plays a huge role in the part of my life that belongs to my inner-self. It allows you to relax and decompress. Getting into a good book allows you to transport yourself to a different place. Like many meditative activities, reading forces you to focus on something else besides the chatter you have going on inside your head at any given time. It allows you to separate from your life for a short while and inhabit the feeling of being somewhere else, or even someone else for a moment in time!

Here are four books that I recommend:

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) [Amazon Link]

nickel and dimedLots of patients we see in the ED are barely getting by on poverty-level wages and many are getting by on even less than that. Do you really understand what that means? Barbara Ehrenreich decided to really find out by going “undercover” to try and survive living only through minimum-wage work. She works as a waitress, a Wal-Mart sales clerk, a nursing-home aide, a cleaning woman and a hotel maid. She discovers that one job is not enough. She lived on the wages she earned and found herself having to share rooms in motels and in trailer parks. She does a great job immersing the reader in the realities of life at $6/hr (minimum-wage in 1998) and after reading it, I felt much more informed about what my patients go through in their lives outside the ED.

The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It by Marcia Angell (2004) [Amazon Link]

truth drug companies

Dr. Marcia Angell spent 2 decades as an editor at The New England Journal of Medicine and was one of the influential voices back in the early 2000’s that forced the medical industry to examine critically what drug companies were doing to gain influence. It was the first book that I read that really opened my eyes to what pharmaceutical companies were doing to “buy” doctors. When I was a medical student and resident, drug reps were everywhere in the hospital. They were buying lunches at rounds, they were in the break rooms giving out pens and peddling their drugs (even giving out samples), and they were walking the halls of the hospital looking to talk to anyone who would listen. There were no restrictions and it had become part of the hospital culture. Now, phrases like “no free lunch” exist and tougher rules about what drug companies can and cannot do in their marketing practices have curbed some of that behavior but it wouldn’t have happened without books like this.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) [Amazon Link]

all the light we cannot see

I recently took a vacation to Australia and I absolutely lost myself in this book. One thing I love about books that you read on vacation is that the two will forever be linked. This book will always transport me back to that vacation and thinking about that vacation makes me remember the experience of sitting by the pool, in the sun, reading this wonderful book. There is nothing better than a book you just don’t want to put down and this was one of those books for me. It’s set in France in World War II. The fact that it is a wartime story would typically mean that it is a non-starter for me but this one was a pleasant surprise. The story is written beautifully and the characters are developed in a way that just sucks you in. It’s a love story that is also suspenseful and intriguing and it transports you to a time you are glad not to know.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan (2009) [Amazon Link]

food rules

I feel like I am frequently confronted with articles and discussions about the benefits of veganism or paleo diets or non-GMO organic products. This short, easy to read book is a wonderful primer to understanding some fundamental concepts about what healthy eating in this day and age really means. He offers up little “rules” – one per page – that you can remember and apply to your own personal food choices. Two of my favorites are: “if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t” and “shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle”.

* Disclaimer: We have no affiliations financial or otherwise with the authors, references or hyperlinks listed, the books, or Amazon.

Taku Taira, MD

Taku Taira, MD

Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine
Associate Program Director
LAC + USC Emergency Medicine Residency
Taku Taira, MD


Associate Program Director LAC+USC Emergency Medicine Residency