Best books for psychiatry residents

Below are my categorized and annotated book recommendations for psychiatry residents, including book recommendations for the psychiatry boards.

General Texts

The DSM-V is a no-brainer, although if you’re choosing, the desk reference is easier to carry around. The big boy is definitive and long (991 pages). The “desk reference” is the pocket sized 444-pager that contains the clinical criteria and pares out some of the additional background, epidemiology, etc. Despite the fact that the move to DSM-V is incomplete for billing purposes, it seems short-sighted to buy the DSM-IV-TR. That said, if you have or pick up a cheap copy of the DSM-IV-TR, then this brief document covers the highlights of the changes made in the new edition. If you are looking for a more extensive update from the DSM-IV but written in a personable fashion, the DSM-V Essentials would get the job done.

The quintessential Kaplan & Saddock series comes in different flavors depending on your mood. Don’t let the title fool you, Kaplan & Saddock’s “Synopsis” of Psychiatry is gigantic. The newest edition is now updated for DSM5 and clocks in at health 1460 pages. This is the definitive, if somewhat obtuse, text in psychiatry. It makes for a nice reference, with a lot of historical information. Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry, the “smaller” book (still 750 pages!), is the textbook that you might actually read cover to cover (K&S use the term concise loosely). It hasn’t been updated for DSM5 yet. For board review and general reinforcement, you can complete your trifecta with Kaplan & Sadock’s Study Guide and Self-Examination Review in Psychiatry, probably the most comprehensive review book and question source for the PRITE and the boards. This book can be your USMLEWorld of psychiatry. In addition to 1600 questions with detailed explanations, the review text is essentially a readable version of the practical parts of the larger volumes.

The APA also puts out the large (1700 page) Textbook of Psychiatry, a worthy alternative to Kaplan  & Saddock for those who don’t care for Kaplan and Saddock’s sometimes exhausting style but still want to pretend to read a book that weighs 5 pounds.

Board Review

The favorite review/question books for ABPN Psychiatry Certification Examination seem to be:

The most popular/best online question bank for the ABPN is Board Vitals (which also has question banks for other specialities as well). From user comments online, this resource is definitely not error free yet.1 The above books are actually still more popular at this point.

Psychiatry Board Review: Pearls of Wisdom is a change of pace and is written in a concise Q&A format. It is neither as consistent nor as thorough as the other review books, but it does contain a lot of high yield facts organized in a quick-read manner.2

Unlike for Step 1, First Aid for the Psychiatry Boards isn’t the strongest source for psychiatry review, but it does a passable job for neurology.

On the Wards

For those dreaded medicine months, UpToDate is still probably the very best resource. But if you prefer a pocket guide for the not-so-white coat, MGH’s Pocket Medicine is still the best. For when you’re on the psych wards, MGH also makes the Residency Handbook of Psychiatry.


Stahl’s Essential Psychopharmacology is the best resource for learning psychopharm as a first year residents. Start with Stahl and you’ll have a good foundation. Well organized, well written, excellent diagrams.

Essentials of Clinical Psychopharmacology goes into serious detail where Stahl does not. So much detail that many individual drugs have entire chapters (12 pages on buspirone anyone?). The downside is that each chapter has its own authors and the editing is not tight—there’s a fair amount of repetition.

Handbook of Psychiatric Drug Therapy is an extremely practical and well organized pocket size book. Small font, but very clinically oriented.

Tarascon Pocket Pharmacopoeia is a classic general pharma reference, but most people will just use an app like Epocrates (which is just so much easier).


Kaufman’s Clinical Neurology for Psychiatrists is the universally utilized source for a psychiatry-relevant and reasonable treatment of neurology for the boards and beyond. This is sufficient.

If you want a broader and less Psychiatry-oriented volume, Neurology for the Non-Neurologist does the job. It’s readable and not very deep.

For those interested in a basic science level approach to neurobiology and mental health, try Neuroscience for the Mental Health Clinician. Definitely not required reading.


You may not want or need a book about how to conduct a psychiatric interview. For some, this is intuitive on the job learning with takings bits and pieces from the other people you work with. But if you do want a book about the psychiatric interview, then Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding is it.

A Clinicians Guide to Statistics and Epidemiology in Mental Health is a great introduction or refresher to clinically relevant biostatistics, research methods, etc. Clearly written, and all of the examples used in the book are landmark papers you should know anyway.


Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond is a classic CBT textbook. So classic, in fact, that the author, Judith Beck, is the daughter of Aaron Beck (founder of CBT). The sample interviews are extremely hokey however. You’ve been warned.

Mind Over Mood is CBT geared for patients. It includes short chapters and lots of worksheet, which you can copy for CBT patients during therapy.

Becoming a Therapist is classic psychotherapy text. It’s written in a personal style from the beginning therapist’s perspective and includes lots of…dialogue. You may find this a somewhat strange read, particularly if you have good real life examples to model after.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: A Clinical Manual is a more structured approach to psychodynamic psychotherapy, with reasonable and readable short chapters.

Dinner conversation fodder (well-rounded mental health-ish reading)

  1. I’ve actually written questions in the past for the Board Vitals psychiatry question bank. Given how little they paid me, I imagine their business is quite profitable. 

  2. I was lent this book by an attending on my third year psychiatry clerkship; it’s a nice easy read and would make for a good transition into board review mode. 

The resident gender pay gap?

When people talk about the very real gender pay gap, they’re talking about women and men being paid different amounts for doing the same work. There is a pay gap in medicine, and that’s a problem.

What’s so odd then is this discussion of the gender pay gap in the most recent Medscape Resident Salary and Debt Report:

Salaries for women in residency are lower than those for men ($54,000 and $56,000, respectively). The gender disparity in residents, however, is only 4% compared with a disparity of 24% among all physicians, according to the latest Medscape Physician Compensation report. The much smaller difference among residents is most likely due to their work in the hospital setting, where salaries are consistent. But disparity seems to be a continuing problem.

And later:

Over three quarters (76%) of male residents work at least 51 hours per week in the hospital compared with 68% of women. Such a discrepancy might be one reason for the slight income disparity between male and female residents.


  • Resident salaries do not actually vary by gender.
  • Residents cannot bargain for salary increases on an individual basis.
  • Residents are salaried (stipended) workers who do not get paid by the hour as residents (moonlighting aside).

I can think of a few more plausible explanations for the small resident gender pay gap in this totally random sample of 1279 residents from different fields not accounting for seniority:

  1. Out of survey respondents, men were more likely than women to choose specialties with long residencies. This is a general trend which has been demonstrated previously. Resident pay is graded by PGY level. If you are a resident longer, you will eventually get paid more. So a male PGY6 neurosurgery resident gets paid more than a female PGY3 pediatrics resident.
  2. Out of survey respondents, the men who answered had a slightly higher PGY level on average than the female respondents, and this wasn’t controlled for. Same logic as above.
  3. Out of survey respondents, slightly more men lived in geographically expensive areas with consequent larger salaries thanks to CMS.

I would argue that given the classically terrible methodology of Medscape surveys, that the above explanations or more likely than a nefarious but hitherto unknown hidden systematic gender pay gap among resident physicians. The real problem lies in landing that first job after residency and continues from there.

I’ll leave John Oliver to weigh in more eloquently:

A new (!) (very very short) story in Microliterature

Microliterature (“the most popular publication for acclaimed works between 1-1000 words”) has published another entry in my extremely slowly growing collection of Craigslist fiction: “1938 ‘Yosemite Landscape’ Oil Painting,” up on the front page for the next week and at the link above indefinitely.

Microliterature has been around for just over four years, and while the design has changed a bit over time, it has remained pitch perfect venue for very very short stories throughout. Back in 2012, their fine editorial team also published my story, “Did you hear about Lauren?

Board Review: The Gunner “Methods to Success” Fallacy

Much of the entire self-help book market is predicated on the idea that copying the habits of successful people will make you successful. This is untrue.1 This isn’t to say that no one benefits from this shared wisdom, but while someone else’s methods may work for you, the most important thing to know about other peoples’ success is that it is theirs. Continue reading

  1. The same can be said any other resource that purports to help you succeed by sharing the secrets of the elite. 

Explanations for the 2014-2015 Official Step 1 Practice Questions

Using the official 2014-15 “USMLE Step 1 Sample Test Questions,” I’ve written explanations and take home points for each of the 138 questions (the “Free 150″). I can’t reproduce the questions themselves of course as they’re super-copyrighted.

An asterisk means it’s a new question (of which there are around 84). The questions and explanations for last year (2013-14) can still be found here. Continue reading