FEAUTURED IMAGE | Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants by Saqib Noor

Review: Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a Doctor Abroad by Saqib Noor

“Healing: It is not about the right surgery, it is about the right words.”

Official Synopsis from Goodreads

Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants is a heart wrenching yet uplifting collection of letters written during the medical travels of Saqib Noor, a surgeon in training and passionate about health care in impoverished areas.

The events are described in real time within a series of personal letters, as the author travelled from country to country over a ten year span. The writings describe the disasters of the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods of 2010 as well as travels to South Africa, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Myanmar.

The letters reveal the complexities and challenges of medical work in austere environments, as well as the emotional toll it takes on all involved. The stories are filled with sadness yet inspired by hope and an underlying faith in the goodness of the human condition.

Recommended for travel lovers, all involved with healthcare and those wanting a human insight into medical care during disasters and the health challenges facing the poorest parts of the world.

Review: Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a Doctor Abroad by Saqib Noor Book CoverGENRE: Memoir, Non-fiction
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLICATION DATE: April 27th 2017
GET A COPY: Amazon / Half.com



Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a Doctor Abroad by Saqib Noor is the second book I have received and read that is somehow related to my course in college which is BS Human Biology. As a graduate, I didn’t have a hard time understanding the simple medical terms included in the letters found in this book. And I think it would be the same for anybody who would like to read this as well because it is written in a very simple, non-intimidating way.

The strange thing about this book, though, is that it doesn’t have any page numbers. However, the letters, which are classified according to the date they are written and places of field work, are summarized in the table of contents so it has somehow lessened my confusion when I was rereading some of my favorite parts. (Edit: Dr. Noor has read my review and informed me that I received an early print copy of the book. Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants has page numbers now.)

As for the letters, it doesn’t feel like they are actual letters. These letters felt like more like personal essays for me and sometimes, journal entries. At the latter part of the book, personal photographs linked to Dr. Noor’s experiences in the past are printed and these have beautifully brought the letters to life.

This book has revealed Dr. Noor’s intense passion for medicine and helping others. In these letters, he boldly narrated his experiences, his life as a surgeon, and his personal struggles– which showed his strong human side. And although the accounts about his work as a surgeon are somewhat repetitive, those have revealed the common struggles of the people working in the field of medicine such as sanitation, lack in medical equipment and language barrier (for doctors who get to work from one place to another). But that only tells about the problem areas in medicine.

One of the best things I have read in this book is Dr. Noor’s account of how important words are in being a doctor or a surgeon in particular.

“Yet, without the words to communicate with the patient, the effort I fear is meaningless… There can be no adequate words of encouragement. There can be no reassurances…”

and in the next paragraph, he added:

“Between any human relation, whether [he/she] is a patient, an acquaintance or a loved one, I have learned the right words can give hope. The right words can give comfort. The right words can give pain relief. The right words can heal the most. And a kind word to another human can make the necessary difference in life. And I believe it is more powerful than surgery, I have learned that.”

Very beautiful and very basic and yet some people fail to grasp the value of kind words. I’m so glad it got addressed in this book and I’m so glad there are doctors (like Dr. Noor) out there who have a beautiful heart that’s really dedicated to making their patients recover both physically and emotionally. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying doctors, in general, are heartless though. I’ve just seen some who are only doctors or who want to be one because of the money being a doctor can bring to the table.)

There are so many more beautiful insights to expect in this book. You will find words of reassurance, of finding hope and meaning in everything. This book has shown the importance of hope in sad times, of family even and especially when they are far away. And most importantly, this book has shown the importance and beautiful effects of how a person’s dedication and love in serving the poor can change and touch so many lives for the better.

Note: I would like to thank the author slash doctor, Dr. Saqib Noor, for sending me a signed paperback copy of his book. This did not affect my review in any way.

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Do you want to read this book? Have you read a medical memoir before? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!

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If you enjoyed reading this review, there’s a similar book I’d like to recommend to you called Searching for Sitala Mata by Dr. Cornelia Davis. It’s a medical memoir too! *gasp* (How many doctors are becoming authors now too? Who knows?)



Photo of Saqib Noor “I qualified from medical school in 2004 and have since then passionately pursued a career in trauma and orthopaedic surgery. After many years of exams, night shifts and hours scrubbed under the operating lights, I have now completed my higher surgical training.

I am very committed to medicine and surgery in the developing world. I have worked in my short career in South Africa for one year as well as volunteering as a medic for a number of weeks in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Pakistani floods, both in 2010. I have also worked for 6 months at a charity surgical centre in Cambodia in 2013 and I have recently taught orthopaedic surgery in Ethiopia.

I hope to continue this work in the future by working with, and developing trauma services for those in the world less privileged than I have been.

Throughout my travels, I have been incredibly blessed to meet a wonderful array of inspiring, talented and beautiful people that have allowed me to maintain my belief in the underlying and everlasting goodness of the human heart. I hope my ramblings somehow reflect this belief.” – Dr. Noor via Goodreads

Twitter / Goodreads


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