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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  3,086 ratings  ·  232 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
Paperback, 305 pages
Published January 24th 2006 by Griffin (first published February 1st 2005)
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4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,086 ratings  ·  232 reviews

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Sonja Arlow
3.5 stars

I think the reason I love medical memoirs, and specifically those dealing with the first few years of a newly graduated medical student is that their first year as interns are as relatable as they will ever be to us non-medical folks.

You can have all the book learning you want but the first time you see a trauma case you are going to react the same way I would – freeze and panic.

What makes this one noteworthy is that Mike Collins is an orthopaedic resident, paying his dues over 4 years
India Clamp
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: surgery
Starts with a 14-year-old boy in the OR and Dr. Collins must make the decision of saving or amputating his leg. This also occurs post residency at “The Mayo Clinic” and his appointment to chief resident of orthopedic surgery. Feelings are laid bare when he says I felt like the “dullest scalpel in the drawer.”

"Dr. Harding was sleeping and rounds needed to be made...and me the greenest rookie imaginable, in charge. We had fifteen patients in our service...hip or knee replacements. I just wanted t
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Peter Tillman
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
This is Dr. Collin's memoir of his four years as a surgical resident at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic. It's quite a story. I don't usually think of memoirs as page-turners, but this one kept me up until 2AM. Appropriately enough, since most of the book deals with a sleep-deprived resident's life....

I don't know when Collins did his residency, but his memoir has something of a sepia tone. All the doctors are men, all the nurses are women. Collins and his wife are good Irish Catholics -- they made four
May 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
"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
Sep 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic account of a surgeons years in Residency. Learning the ins and outs, trying not to make mistakes, learning to accept them and move on if he does.
This book was hilarious at times, the author is very funny. I even learned a thing or two about medical jargon.
Highly Recommended!
Jun 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, memoirs, medicine
Found this while I was browsing a library that had a display of medical-themed books. I had to laugh when I realized I'd read almost half of them. I have a thing for this kind of book. Of the dozen or so books like this that I've read, Atul Gawande's 4 books definitely rank near the top. I like his writing so much, I actually approached this book with serious skepticism - no way I can like any other book as much as Gawande's right? But Michael Collins did not disappoint. This book isn't nearly a ...more
Oct 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
May 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book had a lot of potential, but it was unfocused, sexist, and unappealing. The doctor writing this tried to set it up like a bad 80s movie where he was the underdog that would then rise up to be top dog, defeating all odds. The sexism was so apparent, and I hated how he always had to comment on how attractive or unattractive his female patients where. At times he even seemed like he was hitting on other women despite having a wife and 12 kids!! To say the least, I did not like this man muc ...more
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
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
Khezu Khez
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
"I'm not god" is quite possibly the most irritating pseudohumblebrag anyone could ever come up with. There are some great moments, but most of what's in here are formulated and stale. The sort of thing way too common in doctor autobiographies - more about what the writers think the readers want to hear.

Some reflective moments were great. Vaguely disturbed by how casual Collins is about reguarly breaking confidentiality to entertain the wife (but I guess in their culture it counts as "good famil
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Charity Yoder
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Parts of the medical side to this book went over my head. Obviously. I don't work in the field and I'd prefer to stay away.

But I (per usual) appreciate people coming into their own and learning to be better. I don't know if I would qualify Collins as an underdog. However, similar aspects apply in the fact that he felt that he came into his residency blind.

The book is infused with humor while Collins reflects back on his younger self. Perhaps a needed touch considering the material.

Overall, a
Jun 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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!
Feb 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-books
This is a pretty good read.
Really interesting subject matter - and I love the descriptions of the surgeries and various orthopaedic complications that Collins encountered. Collins has included the trials and joys of his personal life as well, which is a nice, and important, touch. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments thrown in too.
The writing itself is fairly basic and straightforward, although it is well organised and laid-out. This makes for a worthwhile read if you are interested in
Rawda Sabaa
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
It always fascinates me when I read a biography written by a doctor, how they felt during school & residency, how they felt with their patients & how they got through the hardships of the job.
When the doctor talked about how he felt during residency & how he dealt with it, It touched me in away that I felt hope that someday I will be a good doctor who actually knows what she is doing.
Fate's Lady
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It's not the point, but the biggest impression this book left me with was how selfish and gross that this dude has TWELVE kids. He talks a lot about how poor they are struggling to make ends meet, and how he's so busy that his kids don't even know him, and then he talks about golfing and playing hockey. The stories of the ER were interesting and sometimes funny, but they're often tainted with misogynistic garbage and inappropriate jokes. I'm fully aware that medical staff use dark humor to power ...more
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One hell of a book.
Linda Terblanche
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Nice read

But seriously... 12 kids??
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
António Alves
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great insight into the life of an orthopedic surgeon at arguably the best medical center in the world, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Michael, the author and protagonist, manages to complete his time-consuming residency while moonlighting at another hospital on almost no sleep, and taking care of his family (he eventually had 12 kids). It's entertaining! I found it inspiring to read about his work ethic.

However, I feel the book is filled with too much technical information. Even though it is th
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2015 Reading Chal...: Hot Lights, Cold Steel by Michael Collins 2 16 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
  • Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives: Tales of Life and Death from the ER
  • Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives
  • White Coat: Becoming A Doctor At Harvard Medical School
  • Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue
  • Emergency!: True Stories From The Nation's ERs
  • Becoming a Doctor: A Journey of Initiation in Medical School
  • What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student's Journey
  • When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery
  • Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
  • Intern: A Doctor's Initiation
  • What I Learned in Medical School: Personal Stories of Young Doctors
  • Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
  • Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon
  • Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles
  • This Won't Hurt a Bit: (And Other White Lies): My Education in Medicine and Motherhood
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:
“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.” 11 likes
“Why do we always think our pain will be less if we can make others suffer more?” 7 likes
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