Book Review: Medical School 2.0

Despite the rave reviews from family, friends, and readers on Amazon, I thought David Larson’s Medical School 2.0: An Unconventional Guide to Learn Faster, Ace the USMLE, and Get into Your Top Choice Residency overall falls prey to the common trap of the self-help genre: overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s unapologetically the approach to medical school as if written by Tim Ferriss (of the 4-Hour Workweek fame), which is fine I suppose, but therefore it harkens from the same spiritual family of life hackers that purport to teach you how to make six figures while banging the best-looking people in every city as you travel the world with two pairs of pants and some merino wool socks in a small Tom Bihn backpack. Even though the content is usually fine, the constant hyper-selling (you too can be like me!) sort of makes your eyeballs feel cheap.

On the whole, the book is clearly self-published. The first 13% is all introductory fluff. Larson repeatedly and irritatingly uses ALL CAPS to signify emphasis. There are a lot of grammatical, typographic, and miscellaneous errors (e.g. using “deep-seeded” instead of “deep-seated,” using “I.E.” when he meant “E.G.,” “your” vs. “you’re” etc). But most of all, it just needs an editor. It’s too long and fluffy. It suffers the typical self-help book trap of giving you a few pages of information with ten times more verbiage to attempt to convince you of how great the plan is and how it will benefit you.

Much of the self-help/life-hacking genre is a silly follow the leader game, whereby an individual makes money by trying to sell their success methods to other people (a fraction of which then try to do the same). The real problem is that while success may be sexy, achieving it almost never is. Anyone who purports to teach you the secret to achieving your dreams is mostly selling snake oil (or a book or a pricey online e-course). The good thing is that many of these books, this particular book included, actually have reasonable advice buried beneath the hype. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is solid. The bottom line is something I used to tell my students all the time: You can’t learn everything. No matter what, you will have to pick and choose what to learn, and it might as will be the stuff that matters. Limit your resources. Don’t let your overachieving peers drag you down. If it’s not high yield for step one and you don’t otherwise know that it’s going to be on your unit exams, then you probably don’t need to know it. How Larson thinks you should study finally makes an appearance at the 48% mark (hint: it’s flashcards and spaced repetition, such as many students do with Anki). In catchphrase parlance, that’s “study smarter, not harder.”

So, other than discussing how to study, the book includes exactly 0% of the other parts of medical school: any real specifics about study resources, what to do with the summer after first year, anything specific to the boards, anything about clerkships, anything about applying for residency, etc etc. This is just about how to study, which means in many ways it’s not really about medical school at all. If you want to know about medical school itself, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

There’s also a bunch nutritional pseudoscience and wellness stuff, which is +/-. Maybe I’m too cynical.

If you need someone to help you orient your mindset as you begin medical school, then this book will do the trick. The study methods are fine. Although, while the “typical” med student Larson refers to does exist (the “gunner”), it’s a bit of a straw man to compare his method against. Most people I knew in med school where nothing like what he describes.

All that griping aside, I do think Larson genuinely thinks medical students are making themselves miserable and is trying to offer his perspective of a reasonable approach to prevent throwing four years of your life away, and for that, I do applaud him. The mindset aspect of the book may very well be the most helpful thing about it.

Overall: If you want an in-depth discussion of how to stay sane making flashcards, go for it.

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