Author Archives: Medical School Honors

Must Have: Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s

Dubin's Rapid Interpretation of EKGsDubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s is a one-of-a-kind book that is often referenced in medical schools due to its fun and simple methods of teaching the evaluation of electrocardiograms. More importantly, it provides a high-yield, low-stress method of conveying these otherwise difficult concepts.

In each chapter, the fundamental concepts of EKG’s are delineated in a crisp and clear format. What makes up the bulk of the book is actually not free-text but illustrations that significantly help correlate concepts and electrocardiogram images. Individual diagnoses or findings on an EKG are accompanied by full explanations, including clearly delineated criteria and just enough information to teach pertinent core cardiology concepts (without overwhelming the reader). In fact, the information in Dubin’s EKGs is known for being dumbed down and presented in a “flashcard” style so that it is easy to understand and absorb on-the-go.  All concepts are reiterated and presented repeatedly to ensure maximum retention and an appropriate pace. Interestingly, despite the repetitiveness of the material and the seemingly “dumbed down façade, the book covers all the necessary information that students needs for medical school, and even quick review during residency.  Specific chapters include: Basic Principles, Recording of the EKG, Autonomic Nervous System, Rate, Rhythm, Axis, Hypertrophy, Infarction, and a catch-all Miscellaneous section.

While this title remains highly endorsed by the editors of this site, it is important to still note the drawbacks, for completeness.  Due to the ease of use, some students find Dubin’s EKG to not be challenging enough. While it remains a strong primer, some students (especially those with prior cardiology experience) believe that several pages of information can be condensed into a page or less.  It is important to realize that the aim of this title is to teach only the fundamentals of EKG knowledge. For depth and advanced nuances not needed for medical students, a larger, more condensed resources is warranted. As such, Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s should be used as a quick and superficial “top of the iceberg” but “solid foundations” reference guide to learning the basics of EKG’s.

ECG Complex - Learning the Basics

For medical school: exceedingly useful.
For residency: potentially helpful.
For cardiology fellowships: trainees ought to be well past the basics presented within this book.

Reading Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s cover to cover takes about 4 or 5 hours total, but it is more highly recommended that students periodically return to the book over time for increased retention of the repetitious material.  Overall, this earns a strong endorsement and is highly recommended for any new second year medical student learning cardiology.


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Recommended Preclinical Pulmonology: Respiratory Physiology

West's 9th edition of Respiratory Physiology, great for medical studentsRespiratory Physisology: The Essentials 9th Edition (2011) by John B. West is a beautifully constructed book for understanding the fundamentals of respiratory physiology in about 1 to 2 weeks.  Initially opening the book may bring a bout of anxiety due to the seemingly dense text and black-and-white (or rather red-and-gray) visual aids and illustrations.  However, when you actually begin to read this book, it is quite easy to follow and learn the essentials of respiratory physiology. Only a few sections seem slightly more difficult to understand despite the explanations provided.  In each chapter, the content is provided in a narrative manner, interjected by diagrams, charts, equations, summaries of main points, and finishes up with a summary of important pulmonary concepts and some relevant review questions for the chapter.  Although the presentation is not colorful, the material is presented clearly and concisely.  All the fundamentals medical students need to know are contained within, and there is very little digression or extraneous material.

The table of contents reveals the comprehensive nature of this book:  structure and function, ventilation, diffusion, blood flow and metabolism, ventilation-perfusion relationships, gas transport by the blood, mechanics of breathing, control of ventilation, respiratory system under stress, and tests of pulmonary function. As you can see, Respiratory Physiology talks about everything from structure to function to regulation of respiration, so it does not skip on the important topics.  However, it is important to note that this resource is more focused on physiology than pathophysiology: a needed fundamental for any system. This book can be used either for a comprehensive review of pulmology for pre-clinical medical school exams and for the USMLE boards.  It is 200 pages of good information, but may take several days to read if you are studying pulmonology and other courses at the same time.

when you actually begin to read this book, it is quite easy to follow and learn the essentials of respiratory physiology

This book is recommended to medical students who really want a comprehensive basis in respiratory physiology fundaments, those who want to have a solid foundation for clerkship in pulmonology, and pulmonology residents who may want to brush up on the important basics of respiration.  It However, it is certainly not necessary for students looking only to pass. Although West’s Respiratory Physiology is not wordy beyond necessity, it is still quite a detailed and complete book on the physiology of respiration.


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What You Need to Know about Thieme’s Atlas of Anatomy

Gilroy's Atlas of Anatomy by Thieme

Anatomy – the first huge hurdle for many medical students to climb over. The anatomical knowledge gleaned in this first course will be used repeatedly as part of the foundation of medical knowledge. With that in mind, a solid foundation of resources is an absolute must. Frank Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy has been the gold standard of anatomy books for many years. Professors stand by the atlas and will expect you to memorize most, if not all, of those beautifully colored structures in the Netter plates.

That being said, it is important to introduce the Thieme Atlas of Anatomy by Gilroy. Its 2,200 beautiful images have been painstakingly drawn by Markus Voll and Karl Wesker, and appear to jump off the page. The book takes a different approach from other atlases, by starting with deep structures and working its way superficially. This allows for an understanding of the foundation of the body and how the other structures add on to it. At the end of each section, questions are posed to allow the reader to integrate the knowledge they have learned.

Thieme's Winking SkullThe book not only covers gross anatomy, but also illustrates peripheral innervations, arterial supply and venous drainage, lymphatics, etc. The anatomy is bolstered by clinical correlations, and important details are summarized in wonderfully easy-to-understand tables.  The Muscle Fact pages organize the essentials of origin, insertion, innervations in one place, making it much easier to memorize and review. The book also comes with access to PLUS,  Thieme’s online resource and study aid, which gives the user access to over 600 plates with removable labels, and quizzing capabilities.

The largest, and only, detriment to using the Thieme atlas is that most professors still stand by the Netter atlas, and reference page numbers during lectures. To remedy this, Thieme has composed a table which compares Netter plate numbers to Thieme’s, allowing students to find similar plates.

Overall, this is a highly recommended book that many students believe far surpasses Netter in providing  comprehensive and integrative anatomy knowledge to beginning anatomy students and pro’s alike.


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Must Have Cardiology: Lilly Pathophysiology of Heart Disease

Lilly's Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: A Collaborative Project of Medical Students and FacultyDid you ever wish your course materials had less research-driven material that was bogged down in details? Did you ever wish that relevant information wasn’t presented in a complex and sophisticated manner such that you could spend more time learning and not sorting through the hot mess that is a syllabus?

Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease: A Collaborative Project of Medical Students and Faculty solves both commonly-heard complaints with a well-organized and informative text that will be essential for your Cardiology or Physiology course. The book was written by Dr. Leonard Lilly, a Harvard cardiologist, who understood the pains of the first two years of medical school. He gathered 79 medical students who provided insights on how to present and teach pertinent information to medical students. The book itself has received many accolades from around the world and may already be required at your medical school.

There are quite a few benefits to using this book. The content is set up in a way that allows you to read the book, well… like a book (I know it’s hard to imagine in med school). It starts with pertinent information that med students will need to know in order to understand each subsequent chapter. The material in the Fifth Edition covers: 1. Basic Cardiac Structure and Function, 2. The Cardiac Cycle: Mechanisms of Heart Sounds and Murmurs, 3. Diagnostic Imaging and Cardiac Catheterization, 4. The Electrocardiogram, 5. Atherosclerosis, 6. Ischemic Heart Disease, 7. Acute Coronary Syndromes, 8. Valvular Heart Disease, 9. Heart Failure, 10. The Cardiomyopathies, 11. Mechanisms of Cardiac Arrhythmias, 12. Clinical Aspects of Cardiac Arrhythmias, 13. Hypertension, 14. Diseases of the Pericardium, 15. Diseases of the Peripheral Vasculature, 16. Congenital Heart Disease, 17. Cardiovascular Drugs.

If you choose to use Lilly as a supplemental resource, it is structured in a way that allows you to easily reference sections that integrate disease processes with normal physiologic processes. For example, Chapter 2 has a 6 page excerpt with descripitions of all normal heart sounds, as well as pathological causes and explanations of abnormal heart sounds. If a disease is explained later in the book, Lilly places the appropriate chapter number to point you in the right direction.

Lilly Pathophysiology of Heart Disease Fourth Edition

There are a few disadvantages to this review book. Lilly admits that Pathophysiology of Heart Disease is not meant to be a resource for in-depth questions prompted by the burning minds of future cardiologists. For example, although the book goes to great lengths to describing the mechanics behind an EKG, it falls short of providing the best explanation and a more exhaustive list for pathologies seen in different EKGs. However, to make up for the lack of detail inherent in a review book on cardiology for a med student, Lilly does provide additional readings that he cites at the end of each chapter.

Nevertheless, Lilly is a must-have to help you sort through the massive amounts of information thrown at medical students during Cardiology. It breaks everything down into concise, but understandable text that is rarely found in medical education. The Fifth Edition of Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease can be found at the below links. If you want to save some money, the fourth edition (above) covered practically everything needed for my Cardiology course. Regardless of the edition that you choose, Lilly will not disappoint!


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Surgical Recall: Ultimate Pimping Handbook

Blackbroune Surgical Recall for Third Year Med StudentsSurgical Recall is one of those third year med student books that can be your secret phone-a-friend ace up your sleeve, and concurrently your downfall. There are a number of books you will encounter throughout medical school where the outcome of that class or clerkship is dependent on how the book is used. Just as you wouldn’t use Netter’s or Rohen’s to replace an anatomy text, Surgical Recall must be used properly.

As the title implies, Surgical Recall is your guide to all things pimping on surgery.  Unless surgery is your first rotation, you should already be aware that the pimping starts on the very first day. Accordingly, you should ideally grab a copy of this during the weekend before your surgery clerkship starts and dig in quite a bit by time you hit the first day.  This is the book that’s going to help you avoid looking like a total newbie, because common surgical etiquette and culture is not taught in preclinical classes.  This is the book that’s going to tell you all the usual abbreviations, the names of all the different scissors you enounter, why you should NEVER touch the mayo tray (and what that is), and all of the common pimp questions you will commonly encounter.

Like other books in the Recall series, Surgical Recall uses a split page question and answer format that quizzes the reader on all the common things seen in surgery.  The book does a good job in its use of pictures, especially on sections dedicated to surgical instruments and consumables.  This is important as most third year med students don’t know what a JP drain is, what JP stands for, what they look like, and how they are different from other drains. You could responsively google “JP drain” right now, but you won’t know the names of all the other commonly used tools, which is why this book is helpful.

The latest edition (as seen above) has taken on a somewhat retro look.  Perhaps market research has shown med students go for books that are already on fire to quell the need to later set them ablaze in frustration, or perhaps this just allows for the subsequent edition to look modernized in comparison. Nonetheless, we can’t judge a book by its cover, else the BRS series of books would have gone extinct long ago. The first section of Surgical Recall is going to touch on the big picture and background of surgery, including abbreviations, surgical signs, syndromes, cutting, suturing, tying, instruments, preoperative requirements, wound care, hemostasis, nutrition, shock, complications, and surgical anatomy pearls.  Section II goes over the main general surgery areas, including GI hormones, GI bleeds, hernias, laparoscopy, trauma, burns, bariatric surgery, appendicitis, ostomies, fistulas, IBD, portal hypertension, other hepatobiliary diseases, the breast, endocrine, melanoma, vascular, and intensive care unit knowledge.  The third and final section hits the surgical subspecialties, including pediatrics, plastics, hand, otolaryngology, thoracic, cardiovascular, transplant, orthopedics, neurosurgery, and urology.  This book is around 800 pages long, and while the question and answer format allows for a faster read, you should generally focus on the general surgery knowledge and the topics that specifically correspond to your surgical service.

Surgical Recall Illustrations: JP drain and Scalpels

Included with this latest version is the promise of free “Mobile Access.”  As of now, the jury is still out as to whether this is legitimate, as a number of students have had a hard time actually accessing it through their phones without paying the additional ~$45 app price through Android or Apple. It may be fixed in the future, but don’t purchase this book thinking it will instantly be on your phone.

Surgical Recall can be the downfall for the occasional medical student who believes this is the only book needed during surgery.  Indeed it will seem like a cheat sheet, whereby memorizing this book will produce superstar results in the operating room and floors (and it will).  However, the NBME Surgery Shelf Exam doesn’t care about the things that make awesome operating room medical students that get all the obscure attending questions. There is no Surgery Shelf question on one-handed ties, no Surgery Shelf question on drain choices, and no Surgery Shelf question on how your attending likes their coffee.  Make the distinction: there is OR / floor knowledge, and there is NBME Surgery Shelf exam knowledge, with a minority of overlap.  You need both to go for the gold on your surgery clerkship, and Surgical recall is the tool to help with the former.


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Must Buy: Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple

Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple ReviewClinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple edition 5 by Mark Gladwin is another one of those must-have best books you can safely purchase upon entering medical school.  The focus is to overview all of the bugs (microbiology pathogens) and drugs that medical students encounter in preclinical Microbiology, the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 exams, and the wards.

Whether you are incredibly interested in Microbiology or find it to be a gigantic anxiety provoking and overwhelming burden on your medical school career, Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple will keep you sane.  The strength of the book is taking the daunting task of mass memorization and breaking it down into digestible memorable portions, and using very silly drawings (see collage below). The drawings themselves are either produced by a really bad adult artist, or a really talented second grader. Either way, they have a habit of really sticking.  I have yet to forget that salmonella hangs out in the gallbladder, despite never being tested on that factoid. In all actuality, the book might as well be named Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculous, because that’s what you’re getting. The book even has its own set of cited “Mneomonists” that helped with the ridiculousness.

If you’re into serious reads, this is not the book for you. The reader of Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple needs to be able to laugh and/or eye-roll at the images. The text itself is completely accurate, though one of the ongoing complaints of this book (and series) is the typos and grammatical errors that pop up (they’re an off-label publisher). The only other people who complain are the hardcore Microbiology PhD students who really do just want a serious text to hit nitty gritty advanced details for which you won’t be responsible to any reasonable degree whilst in medical school.

This book is specifically designed for review and ground up learning for the microbiology newbie.  I continue to pull it out for boards and wards, specifically including Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, and Ob/Gyn (STDs are everywhere!).  Individual sections include an Introduction to Bacteria, Gram Positive Bacteria, Gram Negative Bacteria, Acid Fast Bacteria, Bacteria Without Cell Walls, Anti-Bacterial Medications, Fungi, Viruses, Parasites, Very Strange Critters (prions), Antimicrobial Resistance, and a final chapter on Agents of Bioterrorism.  Remember that microbiology and pharmacology books can give a good overview of antibiotic selection, but medical practices should utilize local data on bug susceptibility to direct care.

Overall, Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple is highly recommended as one of the best microbiology textbooks available to medical students, to be complemented with MicroCards to enhance learning.  I leave you with a sampling:

Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple Collage

Most common cause of the common cold: rhinovirus and coronaviridae. Now it is burned into your brain and you will never forget.


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Jafek’s ENT Secrets, third edition

Jafek's ENT Secrets

Jafek's ENT Secrets

ENT Secrets, now in its third edition, is the next step up in otolaryngology texbooks for medical students.  Previously, this site discussed Primary Care Otolaryngology (reviewed here) as a light read to get through a mandatory ENT rotation or look knowledgeable about otolaryngology in a primary care setting. However, this is not an appropriate strategy for a med student on a sub-internship.  To hit the next level of looking awesome, we recommend ENT Secrets.

The benefit of this text book is that it is comprehensive enough for fourth year medical students to learn the fundamentals of every otolaryngology topic, without becoming a monster hardcover. Residents are more likely to reference Pasha or Lee (>1000 pages!), but these are a bit too large and extensive for most medical students on a one month rotation.  They are better suited for Ear-Nose-Throat boards, whereas ENT Secrets is better used for things like getting pimped, and not looking like a newbie.

As with many other books in the “Secrets” series, the book is broken down into subspecialties and reads in question and answer format, with numbered titles followed by detailed definitions of terms and scenarios.  You’ll get all the usual imaging and diagrams you would expect. This also comes with the online Student Consult.  Some of the features, such as online note taking, seem outright useless (please, someone comment if they disagree).  However the ability to access the text electronically means you can embrace the med student geek inside you and read while waiting for the bus.  It also means you can gank key figures and use them in powerpoint presentations.

If you’re about to hit your ENT sub-internship, this is the recommended book for you.  Otherwise, for mandatory clerkships, stick to the recommended reading, or Otolaryngology for Primary Care.


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Pre-Test Pediatrics USMLE style QBank, Great for the Peds Clerkship

PreTest Pediatrics USMLE Style Qbank Questions

PreTest Pediatrics USMLE Style Qbank

PreTest Pediatrics is the resource to pick up for USMLE style Pediatrics Qbank questions. Pediatrics as a field unfortunately doesn’t have its share of amazing high yield resources for med students. We are usually left choosing between First Aid for the Pediatrics Clerkship (upcoming review), Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics (reviewed here), or just hitting up the internet. The problem is that the information tested on the NBME shelf exam focuses on content you will not see on your pediatrics rotation, whether it is outpatient or inpatient.

Nevertheless, on the NBME Pediatrics shelf exam, NBME ambulatory (outpatient) shelf exam, and USMLE Step 2 CK exam, you will need to know the differential diagnosis for things like “child presents with limp.”  Do you remember ever going over that in your preclinical classes?  Yeah, that’s because most med schools don’t hit such topics.  This is precisely where PreTest comes in to boost your scores.

Chapters cover General Pediatrics, the Newborn Infant, Cardiovascular System, Respiratory System (this one is vital for the shelf!), Gastrointestinal System, Urinary Tract, Neuromuscular System, Infectious Disease and Immunology, Hematologic and Neoplastic Diseases, Endocrine, Metabolis, Genetic Disorders, and the Adolescent.

The book has a good number of black and white images to offer.  It would have been nicer in color, but the pathology they are trying to illustrate is actually pretty clear. The ends of each chapter also have matching style questions, but the majority are your usual USMLE style multiple choice qbank questions. Answer explanations are satisfying for both correct and incorrect answer choices, and build upon themselves as you continue reading the book and hit on similar topics.

The differential for child presenting with limp is one of those things that can be solved on USMLE board and NBME shelf exams just by looking at the patient’s age (much like the leukemias).  To really solidify all the additional and weird diseases you most likely won’t see on your Pediatrics clerkship but will most assuredly be tested on, pick up a copy of PreTest Pediatrics.


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