Your family doctor obviously learned how to diagnose various illnesses, such as the flu, skin conditions (rashes, burns, etc.), etc.

I was wondering what textbooks they studied in medical school to learn this? In other words, is there specific textbook(s) that teach you how to diagnose illnesses?

It looks like the textbook Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 2018 is the type of thing I'm looking for. It lists various illnesses and has brief descriptions. Is there something more suited for my interests, or is this as good as it gets? I would like something with more detail (detailed symptoms, etc.), including images, if possible.

Thank you.

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    It depends on what you want to do with it. Before studying it, I had underestimated the amounts of BACKGROUND knowledge necessary to understand disease and be able to accurately identify both what's going on and what to do about it. Now I see that simply learning algorithms to identify patterns misses out on a huge amount of context, and I have found that knowing that context makes a clinician far more competent - especially when it comes to NOT missing atypical presentations of a disease.
    – DoctorWhom
    Jan 14, 2019 at 5:31
  • @DoctorWhom Fair enough, but I want to start with what I specified before learning the background required for exceptional cases. What textbook would you recommend? Jan 14, 2019 at 5:36
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    @ThePointer, you are asking "Is there something more suited for my interests?" What is your interest? Can you describe a scenario in which the knowledge obtained from such a book would help you or someone else? You can openly say you want to be able to diagnose people's health problems, if this is it. Can you be specific about this? It is helpful to know the "scope" of someone's question before providing an answer.
    – Jan
    Jan 14, 2019 at 11:36
  • Hi. Though I am not a doctor, I have found this website to be interesting. It reminds me of the approach I grew up with as a patient. I don't think my comment specifically answers your question, but it may contribute to a small piece of an answer. stanfordmedicine25.stanford.edu
    – Gordon
    Jan 16, 2019 at 1:38
  • books we use in our university and base hospital:
    – kit
    Jan 17, 2019 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


There is no specific book that will teach you how to diagnose illnesses. First of all, medicine is an extremely large and complex science, consisting of different specialties, and every one of them has its own large spectrum of knowledge to study (eg. your question - skin conditions are subject of dermatology, flu - infectious diseases etc.). Doctors go through the basics in all fields during their ~6 years studies, and later become specialists only in a particular branch.

Secondly, just knowing the symptoms of a disease won't qualify you for diagnosing. It's a complex process, that involves a set of special skills, such as knowing how to examine a patient, understanding imaging/lab, and so on.

And here comes an important note: most of what I described is not only taught on a basis of medical literature, but also by a mentor who not only is a good specialist themselves, but also knows how to make other people capable of using all this knowledge.

Last but not least, the comment regarding background knowledge is also completely true and is to be taken into account.

Having said all that, I assume that your goal is to get a peek inside how diagnosis works, in this case i'd recommend some "Introduction to..." textbooks for different medical specialties, they might be a bit challenging to understand without required theoretical background (eg. histology, physiology etc.) but will give a nice overview of what do those specialties work with.

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    Excellent point! Adding on this: I‘ve had a quick look at the standards textbooks for GPs in min university library (~1700 pages each textbook that teaches you basic knowledge), and those are a) hard to understand (even more so for those with no background), and b) they don’t give you the experience you need.
    – Narusan
    Jan 14, 2019 at 10:15

I had to study pathophysiology. My textbook was called something like advanced pathophysiology. However, I learned a lot about neuropsychiatric conditions by studying a book titled something like pharmacological approaches for the treatment of neuropsychological diseases. I think! Very close if not right on.

What it is in layman's terms and probably in medical school texts, is psych pharm. Or psychiatric pharmacology.

Pathophysiology of disease is great for all types of knowledge and psych pharm is very in depth.

Many physicians, ARNPs, and PAs, learn by internship or clinical practice while in school. This cemented book knowledge together with real life presentations with expert guidance. Hope that helped.

Let me add the site that provided my online text for my psych pharm class. This text has pathopsysiological texts, pharmacology texts as well as prescribing information. It had some interactive case studies. It is wonderful. https://stahlonline.cambridge.org/ Perhaps Cambridge University has similar texts that are strictly medical.

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