Book Review – Pocket Companion to Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology 12th Edition

Written by Joe O’Brien, Elsevier Australia Ambassador. on March 14, 2013 in Book Reviews. No Comments

One of the essential textbooks for medical students at most universities around Australia (and many in the United States) is ‘Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology.’ It is not only recommended at Monash but required. However, this vastly knowledgeable but unwieldy tome is difficult to carry with you whilst completing tasks on the ward. The ‘Pocket Companion to Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology 12e’ aims to fill this niche. However the question remains – is it a necessary role?

The ‘Pocket Companion’ is authored by contributors to the full volume it is designed to complement, so it carries a lot of credence. It is divided into units, and each chapter follows a pattern, building up from the cellular basis for that particular bodily system, explaining how the cells function as a unit (i.e. tissues) and then any organ-specific or more far-reaching effects that system has on other parts of the body.

This book excels where many other ‘pocket’ titles fall short. ‘Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology’ is an exceptional technical text, full of incredibly in-depth explanations and every physiological formula you could possibly be required to call upon. These would certainly be useful in some situations, such as a tutorial or an ICU or anaesthetics rotation. However in a day-to-day ward situation, they are a bit beyond the level of knowledge expected by a medical student. I could see this book as very useful for people further along in their training – for example, a physician trainee who wanted more information at his or her fingertips as they see patients with the conditions described in the chapters.

It is important with this book to read the chapters in order. The chapters build upon lessons taught earlier in the book. In this way, it reads much like an extensive university course in physiology. It is important to note because it can be difficult to follow some parts without the required knowledge found in earlier chapters. This can hamper efforts if you are seeking quick answers, but really is a more thorough and sensible approach to such a complicated topic. Physiology is one of – if not, the most – important tool at a physician’s disposal. Whilst not all university’s physiology curricula are created equal, ‘Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology’ covers everything you could possibly need to know plus some. Content, this ‘Pocket Companion’ has in plenty.

One aspect I feel the ‘Pocket Companion’ is unfortunately lacking in is illustrations. Whereas the latest 12th edition of ‘Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology’ is filled with coloured illustrations and histological slides, the pocket companion forgoes these in favour of keeping its size to a minimum. I think that more room could have been saved if pictures were used in place of some of the paragraphs. For example, in the cardiology chapter where the relationship between vessel pressure, flow and resistance is discussed, two paragraphs are used to explain the concept known eponymously as Virchow’s Triad. This physiological phenomena is very important to clinical medicine, and I am of the opinion that a diagram or graph could make this much clearer. Luckily, the few illustrations that are included are of very high quality.

Other rotations in which this book would be incredibly helpful include immunology, haematology, pathology and renal medicine. All of these specialties require an intricate working knowledge of the underlying physiology of their respective systems. Being able to pull some of the facts out of this book would certainly impress the consultant on duty. I think even some of them would be hard-pressed to recall the formulas and obscure concepts covered here!

The cardiology chapter is very useful for anyone considering pursuing this specialty as a career. Beginning with core topics such as the electrophysiology we measure every day as ECGs, this gets expanded upon to the umpteenth degree. Whilst not strictly a pathology textbook, some of the more common electrical abnormalities are discussed, which every doctor knows is very relevant as this translates to changes visible on ECGs which can potentially change patient management decisions.

In conclusion, the ‘Pocket Companion’ is a particularly niche text that fills its purpose in surplus. A very in-depth book which covers a wealth of topics, it complements its father text well. My only concern is that it may be a role that is not entirely essential. In future editions, it would be nice to see more illustrations in place of some very wordy chapters. However, if you are ever looking for a quick-reference alternative to Oxford Handbook which doesn’t dumb down the science and entirely covers most universities’ physiology curricula, the ‘Pocket Companion to Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology 12th Edition’ is a sure winner.

For more information about ‘Pocket Companion to Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology 12th edition’ click here.

Review by Joe O’Brien. Joe graduated from medicine at Monash University in 2012. He is currently undertaking his internship.

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