This month I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Keith Wailoo, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University, when he spoke at the University of Washington Medical Center, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine’s annual lecture. Dr. Wailoo spoke about his book, Pain: A Political History, giving a historical perspective of our nation’s opioid epidemic. I’ve talked about our work here at the Collaborative to impact opioid prescribing and why this work is so important – drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for American’s under 50. Putting today’s health issues in the context of our nation’s history is so valuable as we work to develop policies – and for me nothing is better than a well-told story. One of my other favorite books on opioid prescribing is Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. This book was so helpful to me as we started to convene our workgroups – and describes some of the early work that inspired the Agency Medical Directors Group Interagency Guideline on Prescribing Opioids for Pain (now in its third edition).

While I understand that books about health policy might not be on everyone’s summer reading list (but they can fit the “Genre that is new to you” category on the Seattle Public Library’s Summer Book BINGO) understanding these issues and knowing how and when to take action are hugely important. We all need to be advocates for our own health to our doctors, within our communities, and to our Federal government. Dr. Atul Gawande’s work should be required reading for anyone making a policy decision that can impact the relationship I have with my care team. He is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, professor of public health and surgery at Harvard, and a bestselling author. Although you can’t go wrong with any of his books, and I certainly recommend them all, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End are my top choices. Being Mortal helped me think about the type of care I would want at the end of life and was published a month before our Collaborative’s End-of-Life Care Recommendations. When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi is another must read and an elegant exploration about what makes life meaningful, even if much too short.

I also recommend The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks, and The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge.

Let me know what is on your summer reading list! If you need me I will be sitting on the beach reading Health Affairs and maybe catching up on Game of Thrones.

Ginny Weir, MPH
Program Director, Bree Collaborative