Best Books for Elective Rotations and Sub-internships

First, my book recommendations for the core third-year clerkships can be found here. What follows are “best” book recommendations geared for MS3/MS4 elective rotations and sub-internships (“sub-i’s”), including most of the surgical and medical subspecialties. Some of these books are geared for medical students; others more for residents. I’ve done my best to include both when appropriate, including a first buy single resource when possible and alternates and options for further reading when necessary. For more info about methodology, feel free to peruse this.

Let me preface this list by saying that a typical student on a normal rotation in a field outside their main interest does not need to buy anything. Even in a field of interest, many (most?) students will simply wait to buy books until they have a book fund during residency and will nonetheless succeed. No one has a monopoly on medicine and medical knowledge; in this new era of medicine, you don’t need to buy anything simply for your education if there isn’t an important test at the end of it.

As a general rule, you will rarely go wrong reading UpToDate for your typical brownie point efforts (particularly in non-surgical fields). As a matter of gamesmanship, you of course never say, “UpToDate says,” you merely state the information as a fact, occasionally referencing “reading” you did or “studies have shown.” It works well to click on the link to the footnote on anything you feel might net you a gold star, click on the reference, then browse the abstract. Then you could say, “a big RCT in Sweden demonstrated…” and if anyone pushes you on details you didn’t glean from the abstract, you simply say, “good question – I don’t recall – I’ll need to go back and look further.”

It should also be said: your success on your rotations has much more to do with how you function as a human being than how many facts you know.


Internal Medicine (general approach)

Surgical subspecialties (general approach)

  • Most medical students during surgical sub-Is should probably focus on anatomy and bread & butter pathology. The mini sections found in Crush Step 2 would be a reasonable start for the latter that would take you literally a few minutes. Obviously, that’s not much of a foundation, but you could do at least that before starting your rotations. But really, I can’t stress this enough: anatomy.
  • If your institution pays for it, plenty of further reading (including Schwartz’s and Zollinger’s) is available through AccessSurgery.

Pediatrics (general approach)


Critical Care / ICU

  • The Vent Book (this is short enough you can actually read it), covers the most ICU-specific part of the ICU.
  • The Little ICU Book (not that little) is the most common recommendation if you really think you can do a textbook on an ICU rotation (good luck).
  • Alternate: The Washington Manual of Critical Care, if you prefer algorithms > textbook-style treatment.
  • Harrison’s (Part 12), if you planned on getting it anyway.



Emergency Medicine


General Surgery



  • For third years: Can start with Blueprints Neurology for a quick summary. Otherwise, go straight to PreTest if you’ll be taking a shelf. Focus on the subjects you feel least comfortable about (e.g. movement disorders) since it’s often difficult to churn through a whole PreTest book.
  • The neuro section of Step up to Medicine will also serve you well if you have that volume already. Localizing the lesion is oddly more of a focus on the preclinical neuroscience exams, but for help with that you might try Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple.
  • For those looking for the next level during additional rotations, try Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases.



Otolaryngology (ENT)

  • ENT Secrets is the solid choice.
  • For further study, the consensus would then point you to Pasha or the Handbook of Otolaryngology. Pasha is by far the more popular but also isn’t available for Kindle; the Handbook assumes a bit less on your part and may be more readable for most students.


Orthopedic Surgery


Plastic Surgery

PM&R (Physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine, physiatry)


Radiation Oncology




LS 11.12.16 Reply

Thank you – this is very helpful!

Ben 11.14.16 Reply

Glad to hear it!

Adam 11.16.16 Reply

I’d like to add some sources: offers cheap echo courses that I have had enormous use of as a physician. Expensive though if you want to dig deeper into their courses. appears to be the same gang, looks good, somewhat expensive.

For those who need to step up their ECG game I recommend (free e-book, extensive material) or Galen Wagner’s book which I forgot the title of, but it’s amazingly well written. Dale Dubin’s book is great until you actually meet a patient, then you’ll notice its blatant shortcomings. Another great book is Ary L Goldbergers ECG a simplified approach.

Karl K 04.03.17 Reply

Any advice/recommended books for an interventional radiology rotation?

Ben 04.05.17 Reply

See the IR section of this post if you’re hungry. You don’t necessarily need to read anything, just be observant, generally helpful, and try to review the anatomy.

Naveera Khan 02.24.18 Reply

Hello Ben,
Any thoughts on the resources to use for an Infectious Diseases Elective?
Thankyou for all your advice. You’ve been a great help throughout med school. A virtual mentor.

Ben 02.27.18 Reply

Good question. Most medicine books have chapters on ID, including Harrison’s, so the ID chapter from whatever larger text you have should be pretty good. The big reference would be Mandell, but I wouldn’t bother even going to the library for that on a short elective.

Antimicrobial stewardship changes quickly, so it’s hard for a textbook to keep up. The only book I’d considering buying if you don’t have it would be the The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy to keep in your pocket, which is updated annually.

Niko 03.21.19 Reply

No recommendations for Pediatrics?

Ben 03.23.19 Reply

Well, that seems large a blatant oversight, doesn’t it? Addressed now.

John 01.07.20 Reply

Hey. Do you have any recommendations for resources for electives in Thoracic Surgery? Something to read during that 1 month. Thanks

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