By Janhavi Dubhashi
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington:
This book is for anyone who is interested in understanding the historical relationship that exists between the medical establishment and Black Americans. This book is masterfully written, intensely researched, and deeply related to our work in health advocacy. Most of us are familiar with the syphilis experiments in Tuskegee, but after reading this book, you realize that the Tuskegee study was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Washington explains the historical context in a way that is easy to understand, while also addressing systemic issues such as how prison systems and mass incarceration have been used as a tool of medical oppression in the Black community. Each chapter has its own theme, from experimentation in colonial times to the present day health care system. Even if you don’t have much time to dedicate to reading an entire book, you could view this as a collection of essays. While I usually rent books from the library, this one is worth buying your own copy of and marking up with your own notes to come back to again and again! Hopefully, in years to come, this book becomes a required read for all health professional students.
The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World by Michael Marmot:
“Why treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?” With an opening statement to remember, this book will have you intrigued from the start. This book was written by the President of the World Medical Association and clearly translates the ways in which social injustice is the greatest threat to global health. From an outside (European) perspective, he provides a harsh dose of reality, interlaced with statistics and clear examples on health inequities, and a point of view on global medical systems and social determinants of health which isn’t often heard. He offers clear examples of the disparities in health care between andwithin countries. If you’re interested in global public health, The Health Gap is a must-read.
How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America by Otis Brawley
One of my favorite things about this book was how genuine and close to home it feels. This story-centered book uses examples from real patients treated right here in Atlanta to highlight the failures of our current health care systems. Many stories come right from the green hallways of Grady Memorial Hospital. Dr. Otis Brawley is a prominent insider, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society, but he refuses to stay silent on inequities that we cause in our current system. Dr. Brawley doesn’t shy away from tough topics, including the difficulty of dealing with death, “In part, this is about our culture. As Americans, we are a never-give-up, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of people. To us, death is a failure of medicine. Death has to be somebody’s fault, and we are generous in assigning the blame.” This book was hard for me to put down, especially the sections on how this country treats cancer patients and the role that patients should take in being their own advocate. If you like to have statistics to accompany the stories that will stick with you, I really think you would enjoy this book.
Those are my top three recently read health-related books. I can assure you that the list was hard to narrow down, mainly because my own ‘Books To Read’ list is continuously growing. I would be remiss not to include some other recommendations of other great books that challenged my thinking (and some memorable lines from each).
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein