The medical field is vast and there is a great deal of literature, including textbooks. Is there a clear progression of textbooks that one could go through in order to build knowledge in the medical sciences? For example, in the topics of physiology and biochemistry, how does one determine where to start?

  • 1
    What do you want to achieve by reading such books? I'm asking because you can get more appropriate suggestions then.
    – Jan
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 17:50
  • 1
    Do you have any background in chemistry and biology? Those aren't introductory subjects.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 18:32
  • @Jan I wish to get some fundamental knowledge around the subject as a basis, so that I can then later read upon more specialised topics, which I would need the basis no matter which specific topic I want to
    – 2569cfa
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:07
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    @CareyGregory can assume that I have the pre undergraduate science background from A levels
    – 2569cfa
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:09
  • @2569cfa I don't know what "A levels" means. Are you saying you're a high school student who has had advanced biology and chemistry classes?
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 22, 2019 at 0:09

2 Answers 2


Medicine is challenging for many reasons. One major reason is that it takes multiple tiers of knowledge as a foundation prior to being able to even start studying the fundamentals.

This is how it works in the USA for most schools:

FIRST: College or University (after high school, before medical school)

Undergraduate level (usually 4 years):

  1. Math: through advanced algebra and trigonometry, if not done in high school. Calculus may be required to enter med school, but its concepts are not really necessary for medicine unless you plan to do certain advanced research topics. I'd also recommend at least one course in statistics, if not biostatistics as well.
  2. Physics: minimum 2 semesters. Trig-based should be enough, not necessary for calculus-based.
  3. Biology: as much as you can get, usually multiple semesters are required. Especially focus on cellular, molecular, genetic. Consider taking mammalian physiology or an undergrad anatomy & physiology class for a solid foundation.
  4. Chemistry: usually requires 2 semesters of inorganic, 2 of organic, and 1-2 of biochemistry. Biochemistry is the most useful.

SECOND: Med school (4 years):

The first 2 years are basic sciences, extremely dense, fast classes:

  1. Anatomy and histology: goes in depth, including gross anatomy. Example textbooks: Grey's Anatomy, Moore's Clinical Anatomy, Netter's Atlas.
  2. Normal Physiology: including all systems (e.g. cardiology, pulmonology, endocrinology etc etc). Example textbooks: Boron and Boulpaep, West Pulmonology, Kablunde Cardiology, and other system-based textbooks.
  3. Pathology: including histopathology and the abnormal of all physiology topics. Example textbook: Robbins & Cotran.
  4. Public health: usually just an overview, with lots of epidemiology and biostatistics.

The last 2 years of med school are clinical rotations plus lectures, reading, and exams on the application of all of the above to clinical situations. Examples of books used are Harrison's Internal Medicine, Case Files and Blueprints for each specialty rotation, etc.

THIRD: Residency:

You'll do 3 to 7 years of residency in your specialty, where you practice medicine under supervision with additional lectures, reading, and exams. This is finally when things fully come together.

In summary:

It's hard to say "read X to get started" without a clear idea of how far into the fundamentals one has gone. There's a reason it takes so many years to study - it's like building a pyramid from the ground up. You can't skip to the top block without building a solid foundation.


Examples of books from four basic "pre-clinical" subjects:

These books are often a part of "recommended literature" for medical students at various universities. They are "complete" books. They should be easy to understand for everyone who has finished a high school with emphasis on natural sciences. I don't think it makes sense to read any short version of such books to "get prepared."

It is a good idea to get familiar with basic medical terms. Examples of online sources:

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