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Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,814 ratings  ·  150 reviews
When Michael Collins decides to become a surgeon, he is totally unprepared for the chaotic life of a resident at a major hospital. A natural overachiever, Collins' success, in college and medical school led to a surgical residency at one of the most respected medical centers in the world, the famed Mayo Clinic. But compared to his fellow residents Collins feels inadequate ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by St. Martin's Press
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This was one of my favorite “doctor” books. Dr. Collins is an amazing author who brings truth and humor to his life as a resident. In stark contrast to “Intern Blues”, Dr. Collins isn’t caught whining; rather, he understands his job is tough, the hours long, and the decisions difficult with a sense of journey. That is, he engrosses himself in his life and enjoys the ride.

You really can feel his emotions when he succeeds, fails, is uncertain. You grow in compassion and respect for his supportive
I thought it was really cool when I read the description of Collins on the back flap and saw that he has 12 children. He’s Irish Catholic, I guess, but he doesn’t come across as the least bit religious in the book. I think he and his wife don’t have so many children for religious reasons so much as because they just love having children. In any case, this description of the four years of orthopedic surgery residency at the Mayo Clinic is awesome. It’s very engrossing, with lots of medical detail ...more
"I was a counterfeit, an impostor who had infiltrated this society of brilliant surgeons. [...] I would have thrown myself on the floor and asked them to shoot me and put me out of my misery." When I read these lines, I knew that this book was the real thing.

There's something in Collins' self-deprecation and love of his work that reminds me of James Herriot, but the humour of "Hot Lights, Cold Steel" is starker, though no less funny. The laughter is there, of course, but it sounds more like a m
Dr. Collins is kind of like the Augusten Bourroughs/David Sedaris of medical writing. Some of the stories are funny (the patient with a dildo stuck up his butt), others are heartbreaking (an 18 year old girl with cancer of the ilium). The book is the first medical writing I've read that is more than just clinical stories but also gives insight into what the life of a resident is like -- the long hours, the low pay, the lapses in confidence -- all the sacrafices that must be made for training to ...more
Dr. Collins could easily launch a second career as an author. This book is the story of his four years as an orthopedic resident at the Mayo Clinic--the final four years before he was officially labled "MD." At the same time, he and his wife were having their first four children! (They topped out at twelve, according to his biography on the book jacket.) The book left me wishing he would write a book covering the rest of his life and career since then. This book made me laugh out loud, cry, and ...more
Jun 28, 2009 Carmen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Karishma
This is a book about a resdient at the Mayo Clinic in Orthopedics. It's about his struggles and his own doubts about why he was picked to get a residency in one of the top programs in the nation! So far, this book is proving incredibly interesting - although I must admit his residency experience appears to have been a LOT more demanding than mine!

Despite the sleepless nights and such - there is something to be said for the insanity and friendships that bloom in such a time! Some of my best frien
Jan 29, 2008 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Medical students, Residents, or the families of either one
Recommended to Jamie by: My husband
I loved this book because it helped me see what was ahead for my family in the next few years during residency. It also scared me to know what I was up against. The ortho residents in this book had a very close friendship and I found myself hoping my husband would have the same friendships with those he trains with. Needless to say, I am grateful for the new 80 hours work week laws--even if they usually go over anyway.
Jun 15, 2008 Collin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pre-med students, everyone
Shelves: medicine, non-fiction
A very entertaining book about a man's surgical residency. It's informative if you're interested in medicine yourself (as is the case for me), but deserves to be read on the merit of it's entertainment value alone. At times hilarious, touching, and tragic. It's a rather short memoir, but you find yourself really caring about the author and his story by the end. Read it all in a few days and didn't want it to end.
This Orthopedic surgeon is a very good storyteller! Good sense of humor - his wife needs to write a book about surviving life with all those kids without her husband around!

It is biography of his life and a collection of very touching/humorous/nerve wracking stories on his journey of becoming and practicing as an M.D.

I think of my grandfather, leaving his wife to raise six kids without him around, and all the stories he used to tell me of late night calls, the heartbreak and the thrills of being
Collins gives us a little peek into the life of an intern during his four years of residency. He tells how the interns watch surgeries until the attending doctor thinks they are ready to do a part of the surgery and then the whole surgery. Collins and his wife, Patti are living from hand to mouth with no money. Collins moonlights for $20 an hour so the family can get by. His sleepless nights are dangerous to himself when driving and I wonder how he did in surgery without sleep. His descriptions ...more
Hot Nights, Cold Steel is the autobiography of an orthopedic residency. Dr. Michael J. Collins came to the prestigious Mayo Clinic out of medical school feeling unprepared, but through 2 years as a junior resident and 2 as a senior (and then chief) resident, he found the experience worthwhile. Collins manages to pepper the story with salty humor despite the hard times, including horrific traumas, extreme sleep deprivation, and moonlighting at a rural ER to make ends meet for his growing family. ...more
Told through flashback, Michael J. Collins’ Hot Lights, Cold Steel is a sleep-deprived romp through four years of orthopedic residency at the Mayo Clinic. Although published more than 20 years after his days as a resident, readers will feel as though they are along for the ride with Collins and his colleagues. He walks us through his thought process as he confronts his first views of surgery and many sleepless nights moonlighting in a rural emergency room. While the book doesn’t give great insig ...more
In my continuing obsession with medical student/doctor memoirs (begun last spring with Atul Gawande's wonderful books) comes this memoir about a doctor who used to be a construction worker. Collins only started medical school in his mid-twenties, and this book is primarily a story about his four years of residency as an aspiring orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic.

This book was different from Gawandes' (and probably most other medically-themed memoirs) primarily in its tone, because Collins is
I highly enjoyed this book. The author really allowed you to have a first hand look into Michael Collins life (his life) as a surgeon. I also enjoyed that the author allowed you to get the full details into surgeries he would perform as well as a look into his life outside the hospital. This book really made you feel the authors emotions as he would perform a surgery and made you feel as if you were the freshly new surgeon on the job. The author used incredible diction and constantly told you th ...more
Aug 09, 2015 Sarah-billy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pre-med students, families of pre-med students
This book wrenched my guts. Oh, it's a great read. It's a terrific book. I could hardly put it down. Collins goes back and forth between his emotions and thoughts on surgery and his home life. Overall, he does a great job balancing it out and going back and forth. He describes a couple of procedures cleanly but with some detail. He's not as gory as the guy from "Confessions of a Surgeon," (who I refer to as The Guy not out of disrespect but because I can't spell his name), but readers will get a ...more
This book follows Collins through his four-year orthopedic residency at the Mayo Clinic. Collins is an engaging story-teller; it was hard to put this book down. At times, it's laugh at loud funny, at other times incredibly sobering.

Witnessing his transformation from an unsure first-year resident to a confident senior resident is remarkable. It's also very interesting because while there are a clearly a lot of protections in place to ensure that surgical residents are properly overseen, it also
I really enjoyed this book! Who would have thought that a book about a surgeon & his 4 year stint at the Mayo clinic could be funny! But it was! Dr Collins is very humorous. Obviously there are some sad moments throughout the book, patients he's lost or patients he can't help. I really enjoyed knowing what he was thinking during the good times & the bad.
Maggie Whitaker
Hot Lights, Cold Steel was a truly amazing book. This novel was about Michael Collins four year surgical residency. Through a documentary novel, Collins shared his personal resident experience with the reading public. It described the ups and downs of the medical field, and a 100% true story of what the process of becoming a professional surgeon is really like. Being a pupil very much interested in medicine, it only fired my passion. Just another reason why I found this book so intriguing. It ha ...more
This book was even better than expected, interlaced with dark humor. I turned the tv off and read the book all evening! A very likable group of would-be surgeons, indeed!
Megan Kalinowski
I really liked this book because it was telling the story of how someone came to be. I think it could have been a little more personal, the book was telling the reader how Dr. Collins felt out of place during his residency, but there was not as much of that, and more of his struggles trying to make ends meet. However, despite this, I really enjoyed reading about it. It sort of gave me a more detailed eye to the life of a surgical resident, a job that I would like to pursue in the future. I am mo ...more
Mike Collins begins his four years as an orthopedic surgery resident at the famous Mayo Clinic completely green. Throughout his residency, he learns to be a surgeon, struggles to balance his compassion with detachment, grows his family, and suffers on a resident's low-paying salary.

Four years are condensed quite well in this book. Mike begins as a complete novice, ill-prepared to operate, but gradually learns the skills necessary. The stories are vignettes throughout the long months, but they ar
Jun 14, 2008 Cristin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Incredible,inspiring and heart-breaking. I laughed and I cried.
This book was like a breath of fresh air. My husband and kids got used to me chuckling every few pages as I was reading this book over the last couple of days. I love this author, and I love his family. Why didn't you put a picture of Patti and the kids in the book?? :) It's a medical autobiography about this doctor's years as an orthopedic surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic, but also has a beautiful message about marriage and family. I loved how Dr. Collins interspersed humor and tenderness in ...more
One of the central themes of this book is quite simple: surgery is exhausting. The author's story explains how he goes through a grueling four-year orthopedic surgery residency at the Mayo Clinic.

I liked this book for two main reasons:

1) The fastidious and rigorous nature of surgery is clearly exemplified. I tried watching a few episodes of Gray's Anatomy in the past and couldn't make it through a couple of episodes. There are no late night escapades and fancy wine-and-dine moments in this book
Paige Plucker
This book was very interesting; it debunked some of the doctor stereotypes and was pretty funny at times. However, I quickly got frustrated with Dr. Collins. Throughout the book, he makes little comments that demean women, and there is a general absence of females from the book. He barely gives his wife any attention, and expects her to take care of several children on a meager budget and not complain! Maybe it's just me and my intolerance of male entitlement, but this wasn't a good book.
Deborah Wilson
I've read surgeon memoirs before, but never one dealing with orthopedics. Collins sculpts an engaging anecdotal review of his four year residency. It is no secret that residents have a grueling schedule and are presented with an array of scenarios. This book however, also provides a glimpse into the humanity of medicine and the lessons provided by patients, if a busy physician takes time to listen and learn. An engaging read that provides insight into the training regimen of our country's physic ...more
Mostly well-written and interesting, yet I couldn't help but think that the book must have been published 30 years ago. I was struck by the repeated commentary on women's breasts and the utter lack of female doctors and surgeons. I know that this is the Midwest, but that combined with the author's Irish-Catholic family (his wife, previously a nurse, is home to raise their continually growing family) makes it seem like it could have been published well before 2006.
A great memoir of a former cab-driver turned orthopedic surgeon. This book captures his four years of orthopedic residency at one of the nation's most prestigious hospitals. It's not at all glamorous or high-paid as one might think. You come to realize that doctors are humans just like the rest of us.

Dr. Collins writes in such an engaging, funny, easy to read manner without a lot of medical jargon or posturing to make himself look good. He comes off as an easy-going, down to earth person. You
my brother recommended this book, as a look into what his life will be like for the next few years (he began his residency in orthopedic surgery this month). i really enjoyed the book. i appreciated Dr. Collins stories and explanation of the life lessons he learned through the patients he treated and experiences he had. i think my favorite is chapter 32, the end of his 3rd year...he was treating a little boy who had broken his arm, and a cast tech helped remind him of probably one of the most va ...more
Great story of a 4 year orthopedic surgery residency from Dr. Michael Collins. He completed his residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester. About 1/3 of the way through, I realized that I had already read this book, but I also remembered how much I had enjoyed it so I plodded on. He goes from the very real position of feeling like he knows nothing when he starts his residency to confidence and the responsiblity of his own service as chief resident at the end of 4 years. Deeply religio ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Hot Lights, Cold Steel by Michael Collins 2 15 Jul 07, 2015 10:39PM  
  • Something for the Pain: Compassion and Burnout in the ER
  • The Intern Blues: The Timeless Classic About the Making of a Doctor
  • On Call: A Doctor's Days and Nights in Residency
  • When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery
  • Emergency!: True Stories From The Nation's ERs
  • Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives
  • White Coat: Becoming A Doctor At Harvard Medical School
  • Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives: Tales of Life and Death from the ER
  • Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue
  • Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
  • What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student's Journey
  • Becoming a Doctor: A Journey of Initiation in Medical School
  • Intern: A Doctor's Initiation
  • Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
  • Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God and Diversity on Steroids
  • Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles
  • Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between
  • A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student
Mike Collins was born on the West Side of Chicago. His first book, HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, describes his years as a surgical resident at the Mayo Clinic. His second book, BLUE COLLAR, BLUE SCRUBS, due to be released on May 26, 2009, turns back the clock to his years as a construction worker dreaming of becoming a doctor.
Visit Mike at:
More about Michael J. Collins...
Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs: The Making of a Surgeon

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“At times it felt like I was killing myself. And yet the only thing I could recall at that moment was how much fun it had been, and how wonderful it was to do this for a living.” 8 likes
“It was the first time I had ever seen someone die, and it wasn't what I expected...I stood there waiting for something momentous to happen, for someone to say something profound, but there was nothing...I still had the childish notion that since my life was so important, all lives were so important. Since my death would be so cataclysmic, all deaths would be so cataclysmic.” 5 likes
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