Be warned, this is a LONG post. During my third year of medical school, I completed six “core” rotations: internal medicine, family medicine, psychiatry, surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, and pediatrics. While third year was exhausting and stressful, it was my favorite year of medical school because I was finally interacting with patients instead of just PowerPoints and textbooks. I have found that the way to succeed on any rotation is to be on time, be respectful, and be curious. But, of course, you also have to study.
In my mind, there are two different categories of resources for clinical rotations: those to help you succeed on the wards and those to help you study for end-of-rotation exams (also called “shelf” exams). There will be overlap in the material between the two categories, but keep in mind that there will be plenty of times where the most updated treatment guidelines used in the hospital will not match with the correct answer on an exam. And yes, some of the resources I have linked cost money BUT especially for the books, I would encourage you to first check your medical school library for online access or ask an upperclassman if they would sell/give you their copies. This was very common at my school and you certainly don’t need pristine, new copies of these resources for them to be helpful. This list is far from exhaustive, but it should get you started!
Shelf Exam Resources
The major resource for shelf exams is UWorld, a massive question bank that is the best way to get comfortable with the question format used on shelf exams, as well as Step 2. Studying for shelf exams is essentially spread out studying for Step 2. This will be your first pass through UW and often your first time really having to think about management and treatment (not just diagnosis). So please remember that, especially on that first pass, UW is a learning tool, not an assessment tool. There are also practice NBME exams for each clerkship that I found helpful. Be forewarned that they cost money, but some schools will give you a voucher to use.
I also used Online MedEd videos to review key topics I kept getting incorrect on UWorld. These videos are available for free – you can pay to access some extra resources, but I didn’t find it was necessary. You should also check out the Emma Holliday video reviews for pediatrics, surgery, and internal medicine. They are, as the kids would say, “high yield.” I did end up paying for an Amboss account as I got closer to Step 2 to help with my review of certain topics and really liked how it was organized. It was especially helpful during my Step 2 dedicated period to review those confusing metabolic disorders, but I don’t think it adds a significant value during clinical rotations. There is an Amboss question bank, but I think the number of UW questions is more than sufficient for the time students have to study.
A lot of medical students swear by Anki, a flashcard app, that you can either download pre-made decks to or create you own. I did not use Anki during my first two years but used it sporadically during my clinical years, primarily to review for the psychiatry and ObGyn exams. If you want to know more about how to use Anki, I highly recommend this post from a fellow medical student blogger!
Good for All Rotations
- UpToDate: The most comprehensive database of evidence-based clinical diagnosis and management. It will be your BFF – you can access it on a computer or app. I used it every.single.day. on every.single.rotation.
- MDCalc: This vital app does pesky but important calculations for you – sodium correction for hyperglycemia, calcium correction for hypoalbuminemia – as well as quick risk assessments for cardiovascular disease, pulmonary embolisms, and sepsis, among others.
- Opioids Dosage Conversion: I didn’t learn about this app until I was at the end of my third year (and it will probably be more useful in residency), but it’s super handy for prescribing pain medication, and ensuing adequate and safe dosing depending on the specific drug or route of administration.
- GoodRx: So many medications are expensive, even with health insurance but GoodRx helps patients access their medications for less money. The app is super handy – you plug in the medication and the location and it will give you an estimated cost, which can often be less than a patient’s typical co-pay.
- MGH White Book: This document was created by Mass Gen and is a comprehensive resource for all things internal medicine with embedded literature. The table of contents is linked to to each specific section/topic, making it so easy to find what you need. I referred to it constantly on my IM rotation and feel like so many folks don’t know it exists!
- Pocket Medicine: I included this little book in a recent post rounding up what’s in my bag for rotations. It’s essentially a tiny, printed version of the MGH White Book and of course, it is now available as an app.
- The Curbsiders Internal Medicine Podcast: The hosts bring on experts to “curbside” and break down important topics in medicine, providing clinical pearls that can be used on the wards or in the exam room.
- CoreIM Podcast: You’ll learn about clinical pearls, how to put evidence into practice, and there’s also an excellent career series (I’m partial to the public health episode), among so many other topics.
- American Academy of Family Physicians: It is free to sign up for a student membership and then you’ll have access to excellent clinical review articles. I used these throughout my rotations, not just on FM since the type of patients and conditions FM docs see spans basically every other rotation (except maybe surgery).
- USPSTF Prevention TaskForce App: Knowing the screening guidelines is useful for your clerkship and eventual practice, but keeping them all straight can be a challenge. This app from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force can help you out!
- AFP Podcast: Hosted by residents, the podcast provides clinical highlights important for FM, summarizes new research, and helps answer questions that come up in clinical practice.
I honestly used UpToDate on this rotation and not much else. You can use SketchyPharm to review psychiatric drugs and Anki/UW to study, but other than that the DSM-5 is the only psychiatry-specific resource you will probably want to look into. It’s likely available through your school’s library!
- TouchSurgery: This app was pretty cool! It is an interactive simulation that lets you walk through different surgeries and procedures. It’s a quick and fun way to prepare for cases!
- Behind the Knife Podcast: The best podcast for surgery students, including this episode on how to succeed on you clerkship. I also highly recommend this ABSITE review episode as solid prep for your shelf exam – it’s a very fast review for the residents but it was essentially everything I needed to know for my exam too.
- Essentials of General Surgery: First of all, DO NOT buy this book. Your school library should have it either in print or online. But it is an excellent resource for reviewing certain topics, my clerkship assigned us some readings out of it and while I didn’t always complete them (whoops), the ones I did had useful information. I’d recommend reading up on the chapters that pertain to your specific service or some general surgery (i.e. SBO, cholecystectomy, appendix, etc.).
- Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes: Basically a mini-mini version of Essentials of General Surgery, its the top line info you need to know. It’s a quick read and possible to get through even after hours spent on your feet/the pure exhaustion of surgery clerkship.
Obstetrics & Gynecology
- UWise Question Bank: These questions are from Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics and are semi-helpful in studying for the shelf exam. I was required to complete them as part of my clerkship (and got access to them through my school), but found that I preferred UW to prepare for this shelf.
- Blueprints Obstetrics & Gynecology: Another good review book that isn’t too hard to get through during the clerkship. It goes over key concepts and management that will be good to know for the rotation and the exam.
- PedsScripts: Kids are not just small adults and you have to keep that in mind when diagnosing them. This app is great to help you develop a diagnostic approach to common pediatric conditions and the questions you should be asking.
- CDC Vaccine: Vaccine schedules are complicated but SO IMPORTANT. The CDC has an app you can download to help determine if your patient needs a vaccine and which one(s)!
- The Cribsiders Podcast: A fantastic pediatric podcast with clinical pearls on a wide range of pediatric topics!
This post is far from complete and I’m sure new resources will pop up. The number one thing to take away is that what worked for me – and what works for your classmates – might not work for you. I really think UW is the number one resource for shelf exams because practice questions really are the name of the game. But beyond that, it’s up to you and a little trial and error to figure out what resources will help you succeed on rotations. And don’t forget – be on time, be respectful, and be curious. It really will make all the difference.
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