The heart of all medical education is centered around a solid foundation in history and physical exam skills. These are not only learned and critiqued early during the preclinical years, but comprise the basis on which medical students are assessed and evaluated during clinical rotations as they are conveyed through presentations. Due to the strong and constant need for excellent history and physical examination skills in producing superior grades, it is highly recommended that all medical students master these abilities early.
Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking, now in its 10th edition, represents the best reference resource for this goal. The book itself is rather extensive as a primer for all things history and physical, which makes it perfect for incoming medical students. The text is detailed and straight-forward, with great complementary pictures, illustrations, and tables. It is important to note that the focus extends behind the basic logistics and mechanics of taking a history and performing a physical. Special attention is placed on normal physiology, as well as the significance of abnormal exam findings. Combined with proper instrument technique and care, this book allows for a deep understanding and mastery of the basic physical exam.
Other benefits of this book include the CD and website access on The Point, which host patient examination and assessment videos, fully searchable text, and cardiopulmonary exam sounds. To a lesser degree, the book is also helpful at providing basic differential diagnosis development. While many medical schools specifically assign chapters in this book as required reading during preclinical years, it remains a fantastic reference source throughout clinical rotations as well, with continued potential for residency.
There are a few drawbacks to this book. First and foremost is the price. At around $100, this “must buy” book is often times considered a “must borrow” from the library. Purchasing the black 9th version of this book will offer nearly all the same content for a slightly lower price, but has issues with page discordance when professors assign specific pages from the latest version. Second, Bates’ strength in providing full explanations to completely inexperienced medical students can sometimes become undesirable later in medical school when trying to obtain a quick concise answer for an understood concept. Along those same lines, the weight of this 992 page book can make constant transport somewhat arduous. It should also be noted that this book does not delve into the depths of specialty exams, but rather focuses strongly on the general history and physical exams needed for core clerkships. For example, the basic eye exam is included, but does not cover the depth that an ophthalmologist might assess. The book does however provide a full and thorough neurologic, pediatric, and gynecologic exam.
The first unit is a general overview, and contains specific book chapters on: Physical Exam and History Taking Overview; Clinical Reasoning, Assessment, and Recording; and Interviewing and the Health History. Unit 2 covers regional examination, with chapters on: General Survey, Vital Signs, and Pain; Behavior and Mental Status; The Skin, Hair, and Nails; Head and Neck; Thorax and Lungs; Cardiovascular System; Breasts and Axillae; Abdomen; Peripheral Vascular System; Male Genitalia and Hernias; Female Genitalia; Anus, Rectum, and Prostate; Musculoskeletal System; and Nervous System. The final unit is dedicated to “special populations,” and includes chapters on: Children – Infancy through Adolescence; The Pregnant Woman; and the Older Adults.
Overall, this is a highly recommended book for incoming medical students to master vital skills. Be sure to use the below links to get a starting price comparison between retailers before making a purchase, as the price can be steep.