Conquering Resource Overload in Medical School

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This post is written by Hayden, a 2nd-year medical student at the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Knoxville, TN. She is originally from Northern New York and attended college at North Carolina State University where she received her degree in Human Biology. She hopes to pursue a career in a surgical specialty. Hayden enjoys reading, trying new restaurants with her friends, and traveling.

We are reaching the end of the application cycle and you may have already heard back and have gotten accepted to a program – congrats! Whether you are entering medical school or a current medical student, you surely have heard that using outside resources for test and board exam prep is something that most students find beneficial. However, the land of outside resources is one that is vast and can be overwhelming. There is a different platform for every subject and various tools for every learning style. Continue reading for the strategies I have followed for selecting the most optimized group of resources without breaking the bank.

General Tips

#1: If there’s one thing I have learned when it comes to resources – less is more. Having too many options to juggle can lead to resource fatigue and a lack of content mastery. Focus your time and energy on a couple high-yield platforms and constantly remind yourself that repetition is key.

#2: Know yourself and how you learn. Don’t compare what other students are doing and pressure yourself into doing the same. However, don’t be quick to ignore popular resources. They are the gold standard for a reason. Do what works best for you, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel if the tried-and-true methods work well.

#3: Find ways to cut costs. Your school might be able to reach out to different companies to get you discounts on prep resources. Often if a student reaches out asking for a group discount, you may be able to get a significant percentage off. I would often split a membership with friends to try to save money where we could.

Resource Style #1: Content Review

Options: Boards & Beyond, Osmosis, Pathoma, Anatomy Bootcamp, Online MedEd, Lecturio, etc.

My recommendation: Boards & Beyond is a gold-standard resource that provides high-yield videos of nearly all the content you need for Step 1. Osmosis is comparable. Pick either Boards & Beyond or Osmosis for Step 1 prep if you want a resource to cover general content review. Online MedEd is a stronger resource for Step 2. I had a lot of students tell me I needed to buy B&B as soon as I started medical school, so I did. I regret this decision because it was very expensive, and I hardly used this platform my entire first year. Instead, I wish that I purchased just for second-year, or even just for the six months leading up to my boards. This is a resource that is very individualized. Some students use it daily, religiously; and others are more like me and didn’t integrate until pre-dedicated board review. I think you should hold off on purchasing until you feel like you need this resource rather than purchasing proactively.

Pathoma is one of the most fantastic resources – a video series of extremely high-yield pathology. I purchased this second-year and watch it religiously. Pathoma is gold-standard and is a resource all medical students need.

Resource Style #2: Visual-Learning

Options: Sketchy, Pixorize, Physeo, etc.

My recommendation: Sketchy Medical is the absolute gold standard for Microbiology. Every medical student, in my opinion, should be using Sketchy for Micro. For Pharmacology, Sketchy and Pixorize are both great resources and very comparable. Sketchy has less videos that are longer; Pixorize has more videos that are shorter. This makes a big difference to a lot of students – so I recommend picking one resource for Pharm and sticking with it.

I’ve never watched Sketchy Pathology, but I know some students find it helpful. I really appreciate Pixorize for their videos on all the diseases you learn in biochemistry, genetics, neurology, etc. I think it is a great resource, not a must-have, but helpful.

If you’re a highly visual learner, Physeo could be worth looking into. It’s a site that most students choose not to purchase, but a handful find to be very useful.

Resource Style #3: Flashcards

Options: Anki, Quizlet

My recommendation: Give Anki a try and determine if it works for you. Learn how to use the platform, be disciplined with it, and then decide how effective it is for you. I personally use the AnKing decks and complete cards associated with all the board preparation materials I watch. This allows me to continue reviewing content weeks and months after I was tested on it in my classes.

If you need to memorize a small set of content for an exam, Quizlet may be helpful for you. My biggest tip for all flashcard users is to use pre-made card decks rather than creating your own cards to cut down on time.

Resource Style #4: Question Banks

Options: UWorld, Amboss, USMLE Rx, COMQUEST/COMBANK, Kaplan, Lecturio, etc.

My recommendation: UWorld is the gold standard question bank that all medical students need for board preparation. However, this Q-Bank should be used only during their dedicated and pre-dedicated periods prior to Step 1. If another Q-Bank is needed, Amboss is a great option. They provide Step 1 self-assessments, tons of high-quality practice questions, and can be used as a search engine for all things content review.

I bought Amboss but did not use it to its full potential because I had access to enough school-specific practice questions for each block exam that I didn’t need to use the Amboss Q-Bank very frequently. I felt this wasn’t the best use of my money, but it is a great resource, so I would only recommend others to purchase if you need to source your own practice questions for block exam prep.

USMLE-Rx has pretty good questions as well if you are looking for a cheaper option to aid in block exam preparation.

Resource Style #5: Other Miscellanous Resources

Options: First-Aid Textbook, Golijan Pathology Podcast Lectures, etc.

My Recommendation: If you like a paper copy of things – buy First Aid. I bought it because it’s so popular, but haven’t touched the book once, because I prefer to read it on my iPad. First Aid is another resource that I haven’t found a way to integrate very often, but I know it is extremely popular for other students. I think this book will become more useful closer to board preparation.

I haven’t ever listened to Dr. Golijan’s podcast but have heard nothing but good things. If you’re an audio-style learner – investigate this. However, if you’re going for a walk or have a long drive and have the time to listen to a podcast – don’t pressure yourself into adding this extra resource. Enjoy that time to listen to your favorite music or a non-academic podcast you like. 

Do What is Right For You

Hopefully these tips help you wherever you’re at in your medical school journey. As you can see, I’ve purchased many resources I haven’t used to their full potential and have certainly found myself in resource overload. At the end of the day the best thing you can do is focus on yourself, try your best, and trust your gut – you will know what is right for you.

Leave a comment if you found this helpful! What kind of study resources do you find helpful?

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