Medical School Essentials: the Bookworm Edition


Medical School Textbooks

11007866_406106262928984_1120959847_nI just wanted to start off by saying I am BLOWN AWAY by the response to my last post.* I received so many comments and stories on FB, Instagram, and this blog, from medical students, other residents, and even people in non-medicine careers who reached out to share their own personal experiences. A lot of the residents in my own program told me they felt similarly and that no one talked about it so they thought they were alone in how they felt. I feel more convinced than ever that WE ALL go through these hard periods, and we can and should all talk about it more so we can lean on each other to get through the tough times. *For those out there who did not like my post and made that known, I’m sorry that my story offended you but I hope you still heard my basic message that the match process does not define who you are and who you will become.

Today I wanted to share a few of the books and resources that got me through medical school. Believe it or not, medical school kind of feels like a distant memory (I started at Stanford Med in Fall 2009, so it was 6.5 years ago! Yikes!). I still remember feeling like I was drowning in information, feeling like I couldn’t get what I needed out of lectures but also not knowing what books to buy to teach myself medicine. It really saved me time and effort to find a few gems, passed down to me by upper classmen, that went a long way in teaching me what I need to know to master preclin, boards, and clinical year exams. Here it is, broken down by category, for the bookworms out there (images are clickable):

*Note: please double check that you are buying the most recent and updated version. I tried to include the newest editions but am not 100% sure so please check before purchasing!

Preclinical Years

 Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple (Ed. 6) taught me everything I know about microbiology. The book is filled with cartoons, which is the signature of these “…made ridiculously simple” series. I still remember the grape-like Staph aureus and the Saturday Night Fever dancer who represents Sydenham chorea. I kind of brushed off clinical microbio when I was in medical school but now I really wish I hadn’t, because you WILL need to know microbio in ANY field you go into! In derm right now I’m memorizing all of these bugs all over again, in greater detail too, because many of these infections have skin manifestations too. IMO, this is the best clinical microbio book, and the best out of the “made ridiculously simple” series.
The Human Brain Coloring Book (Cos, 306) was a fun way to learn the relatively dry and super complicated (IMO) field of neuroanatomy, something I had zero concept of. This book takes you step by step through the different parts of the brain, and you learn how they relate to each other by drawing them. Some may scoff at the idea, but hey, adult coloring books are in these days (Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book anyone?). This human brain coloring book came out before coloring books were the new thing again, so it was way ahead of its time.

Physiology (Costanzo Physiology) was a game changer. I found physiology and pathophys (see below) incredibly hard to learn, and Costanzo broke it down in a way that simply made sense. The chapters were not too long and overly detailed, so it was very feasible to sit down and read through an organ system in a few sittings. Reading the chapter before the lectures in class was very helpful, because Costanzo explained it in simple terms and then the lecture often clarified little details (or it muddled things further, in which case, I just went back to Costanzo). Highly recommend this book and the next one in combination to understand normal human body and disease processes.

Rapid Review Pathology: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access, 4e is written by the same smartass joke-cracking genius behind the Goljan Step 1 board review audio files. I listened to a lot of his audio tapes when I was studying for boards, and all of the information he says (minus the inappropriate jokes) are in this book. I recommend reading the Costanzo chapter first to learn how the normal body works, and then reading the corresponding chapter in Goljan to see how things go haywire in diseases. This book plus Costanzo were KEY in my preclin years.

Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards: with Online Student Consult Access, were great for straight memorization of anatomy. I used these in addition to going into the anatomy lab and learning through dissection.

Rapid Review Biochemistry: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access, 3e was a good basic book that I used for biochem. I was in a unique situation because at the time Stanford didn’t require biochem as an entrance course, so I had never taken it before. Then Stanford Med decided to teach us a year of biochem in the course of 6 lectures. Needless to say, we kind of had to teach ourselves biochem. This book helped go over the basics and I thought it was a good place to start. I imagine most of you will have already taken biochem in undergraduate, so this may be too easy for you.

And now, onto…

Boards Review

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2016 (First Aid USMLE) remains to my knowledge the holy grail of first aid board review. I swear I still remember the page layout of a few handy charts that I revisited time and time again. A handy tip: Buy this book early on in your preclin years and start annotating it as you study. By the time it came to boards review I had a lot of notes in my First Aid that came in handy!

Goljan Pathophysiology Audio Files: I found Dr. Goljan’s lectures entertaining and some things he said still stick out in my mind (“Broad based buds – BLASTO!”). I also still remember his snarky sometimes obnoxious laugh like it was yesterday. I thought it was useful and something to do on the side when you’re driving or running in the gym. I don’t have a copy of these anymore but I’m sure you can find them floating around your medical school.

Question banks: I think the USMLEWorld Q bank is still the best one out there because its difficulty level is the closest to the real thing. Actually at times USMLE world is even HARDER than the real thing so you feel like studying more. I had a few friends who bought USMLEworld not only for step 1 but then bought it for step 2 to do throughout clerkships as a way to study for the shelf exams. It depends on your style of studying; I found the review books below to be sufficient for shelf exams but if you really learn well with USMLE World that may be an option too. I ended up using USMLE World for step 3 as well, which was pretty on point with the case scenarios.

Clinical Years (in random order)

Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes: Top 180 Vignettes for the Surgical Wards (Kaplan Test Prep) was great in preparing for the surgery shelf. I liked that it was in vignette form so that I didn’t feel like I was just memorizing facts. It was also more similar in format to the actual shelf exam.

Surgical Recall, 6th Edition (Recall Series) was great for memorizing little details in case your attendings are fond of pimping. My attendings for my peds surgery and breast surgery rotations were not really into pimping, so I didn’t end up using this book all that much. I also didn’t find it personally as helpful as the Pestana notes above, though others in my class loved this book.

Case Files Pediatrics, Fifth Edition: I used case files and pretest (below) for every clerkship. To be honest, they’re pretty similar and interchangeable. I would recommend seeing which ones you can get your hands on in the library or by swapping with friends so you don’t have to spend a fortune buying new books.

Neurology PreTest Self-Assessment And Review, Eighth Edition

Step-Up to Medicine (Step-Up Series)3rd EDITION: I really liked this one for learning internal medicine, which I thought was the hardest shelf. It is super concise in bullet form and comes with questions which is nice. It’s a good way to study for Step 2 as well.

Please feel free to add to this list! It has been a while since I was in medical school so there may be newer resources on the market.

8 Comments on Medical School Essentials: the Bookworm Edition

  1. Cynthia
    January 11, 2016 at 11:41 am (2 years ago)

    So great, thank you!

  2. Jess
    January 11, 2016 at 10:08 pm (2 years ago)

    This is so awesome!!!! Thank you! Your willingness to keep writing and to give advice is so brave and I appreciate it so much!!!

    • Joyce
      January 12, 2016 at 10:12 pm (2 years ago)

      You’re sweet Jess, thank you for commenting! Hope the book ideas are helpful to you in your medical school journey.

  3. Tara
    January 12, 2016 at 1:23 pm (2 years ago)

    Great post :)
    I definitely agree with your comment about First Aid. Sometimes I find myself visualizing the page / layout of where I know the information I’m trying to remember is on… Good thing it usually comes to me that way!

    • Joyce
      January 12, 2016 at 10:09 pm (2 years ago)

      I’m having flashbacks to studying for step 1 as I’m trying to study now for my in service exam for dermatology. It never ends!

  4. Alexandra
    February 13, 2016 at 11:42 am (2 years ago)

    Hi Joyce =] just came across your IG and now blog- I’m a second year medical student about to begin the journey of board prep- would it be possible for you to write a post on how you prepared for boards? Maybe a sample schedule of a typical day for you?

    Also: congrats on NYU =] I worked at NYU as an intern for 10 years! It’s amazing <3

    • Joyce
      February 13, 2016 at 3:16 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi Alexandra, thanks for stopping by! That’s a great idea, and I will work on a post over the next few weeks after my in-service. It has been a few years since I took boards, so I’ll have to reach back. Glad you had a good experience with NYU! I love it here :)

  5. Jenny Zhang
    February 23, 2016 at 10:29 pm (2 years ago)

    This is so awesome! Thank you for creating this list! I’m about to start osteopathic medical school in Nevada this August! I’m hoping your tips will get me through the massive amount of material and crossing my fingers to return to California for residency. You’re the best!


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