Monthly Archives: July 2012

Free Book Giveaway: Success in Medical School

Success in Medical School - Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years

This contest is now closed. Congratulations to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine student who won!

We’re nearing the big dates for white coat ceremonies and new first year medical students coming into med school! For those of you who read the previous post on Success in Medical School, we’re giving away a free copy randomly to any US med student (including those about to start) who leaves a comment to this post. The comment can say anything (or nothing), but if you have time, please answer the following:

If you could give advice to pre-meds who will be applying to med school to be in your position, what would it be?  What do you feel are the most important aspects of a strong med school application?

You do not need to answer the question to enter – the winner will be selected at random. We just like sharing helpful insights on this site.  Contest ends July 31, 2012 at 11:59pm EST. As usual, e-mail addresses are kept confidential, only used to contact the winner, and never used for spam/evil. Full contest rules apply (but the essentials are that you should be a US med student of 18 years or older). Good luck!

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USMLE Step 1 Series: What Does My Step 1 Score Mean?!

Navigating Step 1 Scores

So it’s Wednesday afternoon. After weeks of waiting, you’ve been checking your e-mail today Q3minutes or hitting refresh on the NBME site repeatedly, and finally find what you’ve been seeking: the link to the PDF that you think determines everything.

You hastily open the file to find….   a large block of text. After the second it takes you to realize the date and your USMLE ID number at the top have nothing to do with your actual score, your eye catches a glimpse of the following:

Passing the USMLE Step 1 Exam

A good sign! You’ve joined the >90% of MD students (and about 80% of DO students trying for an allopathic-residency program) who passed. Congratulations! Chances are though, the page opened up just short of showing the box directly underneath the pass/fail: your score. In your excitement, you struggle with getting the mouse accurately (or was it precisely?) to the scroll bar to find…..  two numbers?  One of them a three digit score, the other a two digit score.  So…  you were aiming for some three digit goal, but now that you have passed and your score is permanent, what does it actually mean?!

In med school, the right answer usually starts with “it depends.” Let’s start with the three digit score, as that’s the important one that gets sent to residency programs with your application. As you know by now, certain medical specialties are more competitive than others. We’ll discuss interpreting below expected or failing scores in another post, but for now, you should start by checking out The National Residency Match Program (NRMP) and Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) document on charting match results.  It comes out around September each year and gives a breakdown of the previous year’s match statistics.  Right now, you’ll be most interested in the section that shows the average and distributions of Step 1 scores by specialty.

Is my Step 1 Score good?As for the two digit score, this is the number that is most likely to be misinterpreted. The first thing to know is that this is NOT a percentage nor a percentile. The former refers to the number of questions correct on the test divided by the total, and the latter (percentile) refers to how well you scored in relation to other students. The two digit score is neither. Don’t feel too confused – if you got this far, you already know you’re pretty smart. The two digit score is a near-arbitrary number, whereby the National Board of Medical Examiners deems the number 75 to be the cutoff for passing. This roughly corresponds to a three digit score of 188. Is it useful?  Not really.  It’s more historic than anything, and the confusion surrounding it is the reason why it is no longer sent with residency applications to program directors.

If you are interested in learning more about USMLE Step 1 percentages and percentiles, we strongly recommend checking out the MedStudentBooks.com USMLE Step 1 Percentile Calculator to help make some more sense of your score.

Congratulations to all those who passed – you’ve quite literally taken your first step to becoming a physician.

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Success in Medical School: for a push in the right direction

Success in Medical School: Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years is the latest title from the MD2B publishers.  The book is laid out across 17 chapters, and explains the basics of how to excel in the first and second year of medical school. Notable chapters specifically include History and Physical Exam techniques, the importance of research, community service, extracurricular activities as they relate to residency applications, professionalism, what to do in the summer between first and second years, and tackling the USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1 exams.  The book is laid out in list format, making it a particularly easy read, as topics are concisely broken into the most important take away points. These lists are generally composed of three types of information: anecdotal evidence, data-driven concepts, and general good advice.

Success in Medical School - Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years

The data-driven points tend to vary. Some can be incredibly insightful for someone new to a particular topic. They can range from subjective surveys of medical students, course directors, and residency program directors, to more objective histories and statistics. These last two categories are useful when referencing chapters on the USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1 exams, as they address many of the common questions this site receives through our contact form about them. What is average? Why are there two reported scores for Step 1? However, a small minority of the fact-driven points can be underwhelmingly simplistic. One point, for example, quoted the Merriam Webster definition of the word plagiarism as its take home message. These types of low-yield facts almost suggest that there is a fact-quota, and makes the book feel fluffy every so often.  For most of the book though, the thorough references are insightful, and incredibly helpful on topics that involve describing different specialties or best practices in medical school.

Anecdotal experience can be a huge benefit for rising medical students. This website is largely built around that very idea. However, a lot of the med student comments in Success in Medical School tend to be unhelpful, and focus on the personal opinions of the cited med student on a particular seemingly-trivial question (e.g. “my favorite course in medical school was…”). While these types of opinion-comments are scattered throughout the book, they are thankfully not a large majority, and don’t detract from the surrounding value.

Lastly, the book offers some general advice which isn’t necessarily reference or backed by data. Often times these can be a good starting point for med school success, but they can be rather vague for someone seeking specific means of improvement.  However, there’s no way for any single book to offer specific methods of studying that would work for all students, let alone up to date, so this generalization is somewhat understandable.

Much like MD2B’s other titles, the goals of this book are quite similar to this site: giving rising medical students an edge. However, the target audience is clearly different, as Success in Medical School: Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years is really geared towards students who have absolutely no understanding of the basic med school concepts.

So how should one reconcile this mixed review?  Well, the book isn’t for everyone, and can’t be endorsed accordingly. However, there are a few key audience types that would benefit from reading Success in Medical School, and almost all of them are self-selecting:

  • pre-medical students who are nervous or unsure about what is expected in medical school (especially those about to matriculate)
  • students entering a medical school that does not provide a lot of orientation, support, or guidance on expectations or succeeding
  • medical students who find they are consistently not able to excel or who consistently produce lower than average grades and evaluations in the first semester of medical school
  • students who want some extra reassurance that their interpretation of academic expectations is accurate before entering situations that are evaluated
  • the nervous-gunner types who are doing fine but feel compelled to find any and all resources they perceive may be of help

Based on the content type of the book, we would normally recommending renting/borrowing it. However, as it really does cover all areas of the preclinical years, we instead recommend having it on hand and referencing sections that are relevant to a student’s stage in medical school as they arise. After all, there’s really no reason a pre-med student should be reading about Step 1, but that section could be helpful during the summer after first year. Purchasing the book used would save some money without losing value, but since it is so new, that may be difficult to do.

For those who feel they may benefit from Success in Medical School, check back on the site over the next week, as we will be giving away a free copy of this title.

 

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