[The original version of this newly updated/revised post was first published way back on August 19, 2012.]
Chances are, your third-year clerkship grades will hinge more on your NBME Shelf exam scores than on your clinical evaluations. The strategy I advocate is to come off of Step 1 strong by immediately shelling out for the UWorld Step 2 question bank for the entire year. Do the questions for each rotation. Take your shelf exams, nervously wait 1-3 weeks for your scores to come back, and soldier on. Then at the end of third year, reset it so you can start fresh and use it to study for Step 2 CK. If you’ve studied for and done well on your shelf exams, UW and Wikipedia should basically be sufficient for Step 2 CK, which for at least the near future will be an extremely important non-pass/fail exam. The best way to perform well on Step 2 CK is to also prepare for and do well on your shelf exams.
While UW is, I believe, indispensable for several of the shelf exams, it is not sufficient. (Related: If you’re in the market for an additional question source, I do have some qbank discounts on the support page.) There are also a variety of online-based curriculum replacements that one can use for longitudinal learning during third year. But for book people, here’s how I would approach each clerkship:
First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship is your must-read. It’s extremely quick, readable, and hits everything. You can read this book in a day if you want to; it’s that short.
The only book you would need after FA is Case Files Psychiatry. It’s a good volume in the series, and some of the cases do a nice job of distinguishing between adjustment disorder in its many forms (recognizing adjustment disorder versus MDD, GAD, acute stress disorder, and PTSD etc is extremely important for the psychiatry shelf). You don’t need more reading beyond that, just UW. Enjoy the psycation.
More than any other shelf, the psychiatry shelf really stresses adverse effects of its medications. Every important drug has its one or two, and you need to know them cold. All of them.
You also need to pay special attention to medical disorders with psychiatric manifestations (depression and pancreatic cancer, Addison’s disease; pheochromocytoma or carcinoid tumors masquerading as panic disorder; etc).
Case Files Obstetrics and Gynecology is your first book of the rotation. When in doubt, you can always get through a Case Files book quickly and know that it will hit the highlights (i.e. common board/pimping questions). It’s an excellent foundation for your rotation, and you should read it as fast as possible.
Many people advocate Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology, as it is quite readable and nearly exhaustive. I would caution you that unless your rotation has light hours, many many students don’t have enough time or energy to slog through it. Many of my peers who started with Blueprints never finished a single book before taking the exam. They just didn’t have time. Finishing a single book is the most important thing; you need to have one cohesive point of view. Even Case Files alone is better than 3/4 of Blueprints. Don’t get yourself in trouble. Most OBGYN clerkships are exhausting.
If your school pays for the ACOG/APGO question bank, great. Definitely use it. If not, I’d just read Case Files again and do UW. Always focus on things that might seem similar and be able to tell them apart (placenta previa vs vasa previa vs abruption). You may benefit from a qbank supplement (or even PreTest) if you have time and no APGO access.
Blueprints Pediatrics is the common favorite (and my wife’s personal favorite as well), and though I personally don’t care for the series, it is certainly sufficient. First Aid is overkill. Case Files Pediatrics (my favorite), patient reading, and UW for me was enough, but if you have the time and drive to read a more thorough text, I think BRS Pediatrics is actually the best.
As far as entries in the series go, Pediatrics PreTest is one of the better ones, and if you need more questions in book format, then it would be a reasonable use of your time (I personally wouldn’t bother).
You probably need two sources. Blueprints or BRS + Case Files is a common combination, if you can stand the cardiology section of BP.
Don’t go overboard on vaccine schedules and developmental milestones. You can sink a lot of time into that for little to no benefit. You should know a couple of big milestones per age group. Know the contraindications for vaccines; don’t learn the actual timelines.
As always, crank through Case Files Surgery as fast you can so you don’t look like an idiot. Crush Step 2 / Step 2 Secrets (essentially the same book in different formats, one of which you’ll probably want/have anyway, I prefer the former) can also help you get a rapid-fire overview of surgery in less than a night (and is also a particularly nice way to quickly learn the very basics of the many surgical subspecialties, which are fair game on the shelf). However, the single best rapid review text is actually Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes, written by a now-retired faculty from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. For years before the official version, a more informal packet was widely used and beloved by students around the world for being extremely quick and extremely high yield (you can find copies of that old standby pdf online).
Then, before slamming into UWorld with all your might, I’ve classically recommended the NMS Surgery Casebook. This dense book has been an essential read for the clerkship: excellent, organized well, good diagrams, and contains everything you need to know. Note, this is not the NMS Surgery textbook. Don’t bother with that thing. The Casebook is the better resource by far. In recent years, many institutions and students have recommended the newer Surgery: A Case Based Clinical Review, which is also excellent. They are analogous, so just pick one. After that, just do questions. Pay special attention to trauma management, which makes up a lot of the test. Many questions hinge on applying the ABCs properly, often comically obviating the need to know definitive management. If you would do two things simultaneously in real life, never forget that one of them technically comes first based on the ABCs.
Many students use Surgical Recall to help prep for pimping and an overall understanding of the day-to-day business of surgery. Surgery Recall is a good book for reviewing the common questions you are likely to receive/knowledge you need to succeed in-person and on the wards/in the OR. It’s a good book to carry in your white coat and pull out when you have a few minutes of downtime. I would not, however, rely on Recall as a primary studying guide when it comes to the shelf. Details about actual surgeries are not on the exam, but the management of surgical patients is. The portions that do apply to the shelf though are full of rapid-fire high-yield facts.
The best way to study for IM is to do all of UW Medicine. This will take several weeks but will be worth it. The second most important thing you can do is pay attention on the wards.
The favorite medicine text nationwide is Step-Up to Medicine, which is the best (and the third edition just came out). It’s a bit long, and you may find yourself dropping it in favor of getting through the question bank. Case Files Internal Medicine is decent (helpful mostly if your background is poor and because it’s shorter). First Aid isn’t worth your time. For practical knowledge on the wards, huge swaths of students swear by Pocket Medicine (formerly “the green book,” it’s been changing colors with each edition), though I personally think UpToDate is more interesting and more complete when a computer is nearby.
If you finish UW, do more UW. Nothing else comes close to being what you need.
I leave Family Medicine for last because it’s one of the more irritating tests to study for. Take it later in the year, and it will be mostly straightforward. Taking it toward the beginning of your clerkships can make it the hardest test of the year given its broad scope and the handful of
seemingly random questions on every test. If you have the choice, doing it toward the end of third year makes the test far more reasonable.
Medical students can become members of the AAFP for free and then use the AAFP question bank. I thought these questions were more resident-level than the real thing and didn’t love them, but they are undeniably a solid resource. You can slog through a ton of UW and that would work, but that’s a daunting task for a shorter rotation. To historically prepare via UW, you would ideally get through the OB, Peds, IM, and preventative sections. That’s a lot. UW recently began offering shelf mode, which includes family medicine, so at least that makes the prospect approachable, but this selection is still more tailored than you’d get from months of organic review. Definitely hit up UVA’s free online mini-qbank, which has 125 high-yield questions.
In the beginning of the year, Case Files Family Medicine would help give you the basics. Later in the year, it will likely just remind you of things you already know quite well. The ambulatory section of Step Up to Medicine is certainly a good idea. Some people use Blueprints FM (breadth but not depth) or Step 2 CK review books (try Crush Step 2, if you must). There just isn’t a great resource geared for the clerkship. That said, some students swear by the use of Swanson’s Family Medicine Review, which is written for the FM boards but has a nice case-based question-heavy format that would likely serve you well. If that seems too daunting, reading the pediatrics and ob/gyn sections of Crush Step 2 will at least help you rapidly hit the highlights.
In the end, family medicine is not a discrete field; it’s a combination of everything else: mostly medicine, a good helping of peds and ob/gyn, and even a bit of psych, surgery, and EM thrown in. My advice is to schedule it for later in the year, especially after medicine, which makes it much more manageable.
Questions, questions, questions.
Elective and sub-I book recommendations are here. Some thoughts on how to approach irritating/difficult clinical science questions can be found toward the bottom of this page. Step 2 resources are detailed here.
Looking for information on the preclinical shelf exams?
Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology are here.
Pathology is here.