9 Doctors Who Became Best-Selling Authors

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  • Doctors have been the inspiration for countless books, movies and TV shows. But physicians aren’t only the subjects of good stories—many doctors have found careers as writers, too. 

    When you think about it, working in medicine requires many of the same skills as crafting a narrative: understanding different types of people and personalities, dealing with high-stakes situations, and putting together clues to reach a conclusion. Here are some of the most famous physicians who found success as best-selling authors.

  • 1
    Michael Crichton
    Michael Crichton

    Arguably one of the most successful writers of his generation, Michael Crichton was a student at Harvard Medical School when he published his first novel, The Andromeda Strain (1969). Over the course of his prolific career, Crichton sold more than 200 million books, translated into 38 languages. He transitioned into screenwriting, creating the hit TV series “ER” and co-writing the screenplay for the 1993 box office smash “Jurassic Park,” based on his book. In 2002, scientists named a newly discovered dinosaur for him, the Crichtonsaurus bohlini. Crichton died of cancer in 2008 at age 66.

  • 2
    Khaled Hosseini
    Khaled Hosseini

    Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Khaled Hosseini moved to the United States with his family in 1980 at age 15 after seeking political asylum following the Russian invasion of his home country. He earned his medical degree at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine before working as an internist in Los Angeles. While in practice, Husseini began working on his first novel, The Kite Runner (2003), which would stay on the New York Times Best Sellers list for two years. He left medicine and has since published two best-selling follow-ups, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) and And the Mountains Echoed (2013).

  • 3
    Nawal El Saadawi
    Nawal El Saadawi publicity photo

    Nawal El Saadawi’s literary work in her native Egypt has made her a well-known author, activist and advocate for women’s rights. She earned her medical degree from Cairo University in 1955 and later received a master’s in public health from Columbia University. As a physician in Egypt, El Saadawi saw first-hand how patriarchal government policies were affecting women’s health. These experiences helped shape her books Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1960) and Women and Sex (1969), the latter of which resulted in her losing her position in the Egyptian ministry of health. Her outspoken feminism led to her arrest and imprisonment in 1981, during which time she used an eyebrow pencil and toilet paper to write Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1983), published after her release. El Saadawi died in March 2021 at age 89.

  • 4
    Abraham Verghese
    Abraham Verghese MD publicity photo

    Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia to Indian parents, who brought him to the United States to escape political unrest. Verghese worked as an orderly in an American hospital for a year before earning his medical degree from Madras Medical College in India. He returned to the U.S. for his residency in Johnson City, Tenn., and his experiences there formed the foundation for his first memoir, My Own Country. Since then, Verghese has built a reputation for this empathetic, patient-focused approach to medicine and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and more. His first novel, Cutting for Stone (2008), hit no. 1 on the Independent Booksellers list.

  • 5
    Siddhartha Mukherjee
    Siddhartha Mukherjee publicity photo

    Indian-American physician and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee pulled off quite an impressive literary feat: writing a best-selling book about the history of cancer. His 2010 book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, has been critically lauded as one of the most influential non-fiction works of the last century and received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. His follow-up book, The Gene: An Intimate History (2017), reached no. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Prior to his writing career, Muhkerjee earned a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Oxford and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He continues to practice oncology and currently works as an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University.

  • 6
    Danielle Ofri
    Danielle Ofri MD Publicity Photo

    New York native Danielle Ofri earned her medical degree and PhD in pharmacology at New York University School of Medicine before training in internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital. There, she began writing and publishing essays about her experience that would become the basis for her first book, Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue. Ofri has since written several best-selling books while continuing to practice as an attending physician at Bellevue. She also co-founded and edits the Bellevue Literary Review, the nation’s first literary journal to collect and publish works related to health, healing and the human body. Ofri’s most recent book is When We Make Mistakes (2020).

  • 7
    Robin Cook
    Robin Cook MD

    Dubbed the “master of the medical thriller” by the New York Times, Robin Cook is widely credited as the first author to incorporate medical concepts into the mystery-thriller genre. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Cook completed surgical and ophthalmologic residencies and later practiced ophthalmology in Massachusetts. During his ophthalmology residency, Cook wrote Coma (1977), which would later be adapted into a feature film written and directed by Michael Crichton. Since then, Cook has authored dozens of his novels on the New York Times Best Sellers list, including Outbreak, Toxin, Shock and Host. He’s sold more than 400 million books worldwide.

  • 8
    Oliver Sacks
    Oliver Sacks MD at speaking event

    London-born neurologist and author Oliver Sacks has been called the “poet laureate of medicine” by the New York Times. After earning a medical degree from the University of Oxford, Sacks completed residencies and fellowships in California before moving to New York in 1965 to practice neurology. His work with victims of the 1920s outbreak of encephalitis lethargica inspired his book Awakenings (1973), which later became an Oscar-nominated film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Sacks is also known for his published collections of case histories, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and An Anthropologist on Mars (1995). In February 2015, Sacks wrote a New York Times op-ed revealing he had a terminal cancer diagnosis. He died in August of that same year at age 82.

  • 9
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle historical photo

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where one of his teachers, Dr. Joseph Bell, was known for his mastery of logic, observation and deduction in making diagnoses. These traits became the familiar trademarks of Sherlock Holmes, the legendary detective introduced by Conan Doyle in his breakout novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887). Conan Doyle continued to work as a doctor even as the Sherlock Holmes series made him a literary star. However, after a near-fatal case of influenza in May 1891, he left medicine to focus on writing full-time. Conan Doyle died of heart disease in 1930.

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  1. 15 Writers Who Were Also Medical Doctors. Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/79912/15-writers-who-were-also-medical-doctors
  2. 10 famous authors who were also doctors. Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/photo-stories/10-famous-authors-who-were-also-doctors/photostory/59384870.cms
  3. Story Specialists: Doctors Who Write. NPR. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120495468
  4. Biography. ArthurConanDoyle.com. https://www.arthurconandoyle.com/biography.html
  5. Biography. MichaelCrichton.com. https://www.michaelcrichton.com/biography/
  6. Bio. KhaledHosseini.com. https://khaledhosseini.com/bio/
  7. Nawal El Saadawi. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nawal_El_Saadawi
  8. 1981: Nawal El Saadawi. Time 100 Women of the Year. https://time.com/5793662/nawal-el-saadawi-100-women-of-the-year/ 
  9. Abraham Verghese. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Verghese 
  10. About the Author. RobinCook.com. https://robincook.com/author 
  11. About. DanielleOfri.com. https://danielleofri.com/about/
  12. Danielle Ofri. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danielle_Ofri 
  13. Siddartha Mukherjee. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhartha_Mukherjee
  14. About Oliver Sacks. OliverSacks.com. https://www.oliversacks.com/about-oliver-sacks/
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