Book Review: Complications A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

I feel as though every medically-related blogger writes a review about Atul Gawande’s Complications, but I decided “what the hell, I’ll give my two cents.”  I started reading this book at the start of my senior year fall semester, and I read it basically on and off for the entire semester. 

It’s not that the book was long or boring, but that I had an extremely busy semester so I only read it during those few days when I had nothing to do.  This book is a collection of 14 pieces by Atul Gawande without a general plotline, so it may be read on and off without ruining it. 

The book is fantastic, and I highly recommend it to pre-meds, med students, doctors, and anyone else who is interested in reading about humanity in medicine.


The description on the back of my book reads: “In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is — uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human.” 

Prior to reading this book, I had clinical experience to a certain extent — shadowing an OB/GYN and working in the school clinic.  The questions addressed in this book, however, are questions I haven’t really considered.

I think it’s a common notion to forget about your doctor’s humanness, especially when all you are focused on is your injury or sickness.  The idea that a mistake could be made or that you are receiving anything but perfection from your physician never really seemed to cross my mind. 

But of course, that is the reality. 

Every doctor has to be trained at one point, which brings up the paradox that Atul Gawande seems to love: hospital policy is that the patient is first and that as a business they must give each patient excellent care and careful attention, but hospitals have to train doctors to do that, which takes time and resources often at the expense of the patient. 

This book is full of situations that truly highlight what life is like as a doctor who is only human. 

Dr. Gawande as a Surgeon

Complications also illustrates Dr. Gawande’s life as a developing surgeon.  In my last book review, I wrote that reading about the life of a doctor can be a huge motivation for pre-health students.  Complications fits into this helpful category. 

Dr. Gawande goes into great detail about his experiences as a surgeon, such as his first surgery and his first central line placement.  Every experience you read about will give you a better idea of the resident lifestyle. 

I especially like how he depicted his thought process in these early years of being a resident — it shows how, like us, he is excited to be a doctor but still nervous about the mistakes he can make.  The attitude of being a resident seems to just do, not think.


Overall a great read. There are plenty of inspiring stories that really put you in the shoes of a student surgeon. The book also brings up a bunch of thought-provoking questions that make you really question the medical field. This book will help you be more prepared for what you will face in the future as a human in the world of medicine and honestly a lot of the questions that arise from Complications can be brought up in your interviews to make you sound more knowledgeable. 

Buy Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science on Amazon today!

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