Tag Archives: USMLE Step 2 CK Books

Déjà Review: USMLE Step 2 CK – Perfect for Some

Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CKStudents preparing to study for the USMLE Step 2 CK  should be well accustomed to the type of question encountered on the boards and shelf exams, and should have a decent sense of their own study habits and strengths. This is immensely important when deciding on a study plan for Step 2. The seemingly infinite clinical knowledge can be overwhelming, and a structured study plan truly helps.

Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CK, now in its second edition, continues to get mixed reviews by students studying for the boards. The format of the book is very straight forward: alternating sections of clinical vignettes, and rapid-fire two-column recall question and answers. The book goes through each of the core clerkship specializations that will be found on the USMLE Step 2 exam, starting with Internal Medicine, and progressing through Surgery, Neurology, Psychiatry, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, and finally Emergency Medicine. It is not a text book, or even a comprehensive review book such as First Aid, and as such should not be relied upon to learn new concepts. Its strength is purely in aiding with recall and making buzz word connections, and it does that very well.

However, the lack of teaching can be frustrating for students who do not already know or remember the material. DejaReview Step 2 CK shouldn’t replace question banks either. There are no answer explanations or experience in testing. Furthermore, the book is often times seen as unhelpful to students who do not learn well with recall type resources.

It is due to these reasons that there exists a split in outlook about this book. People who excel at rapid recall questions can easily carry this in a wide white coat pocket during the months preceding the USMLE Step 2 CK exam, for high yield on-the-go studying. It is a very strong review text that complements First Aid and USMLE World question banks, but it is not for everyone. Learning style really matters with this book, which is why there are such mixed feelings about it. If you are unsure of your learning style, it is recommended that you check out the format of the book before purchase. Try to browse through a copy at your medical library, or if you want to decide sooner, head over to Amazon, which gives a few of the question type pages found in the book. As far as price, Deja Review USMLE Step 2 CK gives a lot of bang in its 300+ pages for a low cost, so finding out it is not for you won’t set you back too far. Check out the links below to see what I mean.


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Hidden Gem: Cindy Montana’s Interactive Neuroscience Review (free!)

Cindy Montana's Interactive Neuroscience Review (powerpoint)

Cindy Montana’s Interactive Neuroscience Review (powerpoint)

We recently received a question through the contact form about the previous neurology book review, Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas. It was recommended that Haines not be brought into the lab, and the question asked what resource should be used instead.  This post is the answer.

Coming into med school, you’ll be told of all the required books and be handed a syllabus.  However there are a few hidden resources hoarded and protected by the gunners of the class that generally aren’t as readily known.  Cindy Montana’s Interactive Neuroscience Review (very large powerpoint file!) is one such free gem.

After downloading the epic powerpoint presentation from the above link, be sure to view it in slide-show mode. This interactive and animated file is wired together much like the neurology system it teaches, and is horribly confusing and dysfunctional if the slides are just viewed outright.

The presentation really speaks for itself, but the animations are a fantastic and color-coded way to review the neuroanatomy pathways and basic concepts. This should not replace Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas, which is still highly recommended, but rather used as a complement and alternative.  This is perfect for places and times when taking out Haines just doesn’t work.  Most neuro labs have computers, which means you won’t have to dirty your own books.  Similarly, this is a great review for all the crammers and gunners who like to study on the go, as it can be pulled up on many smart phones.

There are many more hidden gems to come.  To all you gunners out there: you’re welcome.

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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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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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Must Buy: Goljan Rapid Review Pathology

Goljan Rapid Review Pathology: a Must Have Pathology book for the USMLE boards

Goljan Rapid Review Pathology: a Must Have book for the USMLE boards

It is finally time to review Goljan: Epic King of Pathology.  All of the legends and rumors you heard were true.  He’s an arm wrestling champion, rides a white stallion around his massive pathology fun house, and can break a man’s finger clean off during rectal exam.  Indeed, some believe that the mere act of saying his name aloud increases their board score by one point every time. If you don’t understand these things, it is simply because you are not yet enlightened.

Edward Goljan is a world class Pathology Chair from Oklahoma State University.  Back in the day, he began doing pathology review courses for his medical students, which have been condensed over the years into the most comprehensive yet concise pathology review available.  More importantly, it is perfectly tailored to the USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, and even USMLE Step 3 boards exams, as Dr. Goljan has further refined his teachings based on constant feedback he receives from students after they take the boards.  As he states:

These notes took 25 years to put together over time.  And it dwindled down to the absolute quintessence. It’s like espresso.  You just have a little drop and you’re already fixed.

At some point, one of his students recorded his epic lecture series, which continues to float around the internet and med school back-alleys to this day, obtained and abused like crack for the boards.  To complement his lectures, he handed out his condensed notes, mentioned above.  Over time, these notes coalesced into Edward Goljan’s Rapid Review Pathology book.

The book itself is newer than the audio and has undergone further revisions, whereas the audio remains in its temporally frozen preservation. 

Edward Goljan, Pathology Review Expert and Arm Wrestler

Edward Goljan: Pure Pathology Intimidation

Specific chapters of Goljan’s Rapid Review Pathology include: Cell Injury, Inflammation and Repair, Immunopathology, Hemodynamic Disorders (Acid, Base, Electrolytes, Water), Genetic and Developmental Disorders, Environmental Pathology, Nutritional Disorders, Neoplasia, Vascular, Heart, Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, Lymphoid Tissue, Hemostasis, Immunohematology, Upper and Lower Respiratory, Gastrointestinal, Hepatobilliary and Pancreatic, Kidneys, Lower Urinary Tract and Male Reproductive Disorders, Female Reproductive Tract and Breast Disorders, Endocrine, Musculoskeletal and Soft Tissue, Skin, Nervous System, and Special Sensory Disorders.

Goljan’s Rapid Review Pathology also comes with Student Consult, the online portal and electronic copy of the book, giving you access to all of the text remotely, as well as the images (which come in handy for powerpoint presentations).  Student Consult for Rapid Review Pathology also comes with a little over 400 USMLE style pathology questions related to the book itself.  However, to truly lock in the information with a fantastic complementary USMLE style pathology question bank, Robbins and Cotran’s Review of Pathology (reviewed here) is the recommended book of choice.

For more information on Goljan and to view his other books, see his publisher profile, or download the Pathology Rapid Review Errata (word doc).



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Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics – A Solid Med Student Reference Book

Nelson's Essentials of Pediatrics, Solid Med School Reference Book for the Pediatrics Clerkship

Nelson's Essentials of Pediatrics, A Solid Med School Reference Book for the Pediatrics Clerkship

There really aren’t a ton of great pediatrics books out there for the core clerkship, but Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics is just a solid reference book to provide the basis of med student studying.  It represents the condensed version of the 2680-page full version, Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics, often times referred to as the Pediatric Bible.  Nelson’s Essentials hits all the key common pediatrics issues, but at 864 pages, it’s a balance between manageable and comprehensive. Still, you’ll have to pick and choose which chapters are read straight through, because you won’t be able to shotgun this entire book in a reasonable amount of time.

The best study technique for pediatrics is to actually use a reference book such as this or Rudolph’s Fundamentals of Pediatrics (to be reviewed later) along with a number of question books such as Pre-Test Pediatrics, as well as online resources like UpToDate. Referencing Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics on each of your assigned patients is a great way to prepare for imminent pimping.  Again, as a larger book, it’s tough to read cover to cover, or even carry around to the wards, but it is reliable. With that being said, it also comes with Student Consult, which means you can scratch-off the key code inside the front cover to get access to the book electronically. As usual, this is perfect while roaming around the pediatric floors, and for snagging images for formal presentations.

Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics has some easy to understand, straight forward (but not overly amazing) diagrams and graphs. Again, it gets the job done.  The 204 Chapters are grouped into the following units: The Profession of Pediatrics, Growth and Development, Behavioral Disorders, Psychiatric Disorders, Psychosocial Issues (which comes up a lot on the pediatrics rotation), Pediatric Nutrition, Fluids and Electrolytes, The Acutely Ill or Injured Child (perfect for Pediatric Emergency as well), Human Genetics and Dysmorphology, Metabolic Disorders, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, Adolescent Medicine, Immunology, Allergy, Rheumatic Disorders of Childhood, Infectious Diseases, Digestive System, Respiratory System, Cardiovascular System, Hematology, Oncology, Nephrology and Urology, Endocrinology, Neurology (useful for the Neurology shelf exam), Dermatology, and Orthopedics.

Again, this is a solid reference book, and a good companion during the Pediatric Clerkship.


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Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology, AKA Red Robbins

Robbins and Cotran Pathology Review, AKA Red Robbins

Robbins and Cotran Pathology Review, AKA Red Robbins

Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology, 3rd Edition, AKA “Red Robbins,” is the best pathology USMLE style question bank/book for the boards, and a great complement to Goljan’s review books and audio.  The true strength is mixing clinical scenarios with pathology concepts, which makes a topic that is easily boring for many medical students into a very relevant and high yield exercise in the thought process necessary for excelling in pre-clinical class exams, USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, and USMLE Step 3 boards.

The pertinent questions is: should this be used with a question bank such as USMLE World or Kaplan?  The answer is definitively yes. At some point, you’re going to hit up Goljan (to be reviewed later), and this book is what will lock in that information with an alternate perspective on the same topics.  This should not replace or be used as a substitute for a primary question bank. As for using it with “Big Robbins” or “Baby Robbins,” neither are really needed for the boards past Goljan.  At times you may want to reference these resources for topics that require a bit more detail, but they are not a necessity, and can usually be borrowed from friends or the library.  (Both of these will also be reviewed in more detail later.)

Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology does a particularly good job of pulling glossy high resolution color microscopic and gross images that are actually representative of the pathology being reviewed. This really is one of the most important aspects of any pathology teaching.  Explanations are thorough, including why the wrong answers are wrong, and the questions are representative of what comes up on the boards.

The three major pathology review sections are comprehensive. Unit 1, General Pathology, covers Cellular Path, Acute and Chronic Inflammation, Tissue Renewal and Repair, Regeneration, Healing, Fibrosis, Hemodynamic Disorders, Thromboembolic Disease, Shock, Genetic Disorders, Diseases of Immunity, Neoplasia, Infectious Disease, Environmental and Nutritional Diseases, and Diseases of Infancy and Childhood.  Unit 2, Organ Systemic Pathology, has individual chapters on Blood Vessels, the Heart, Diseases of White Blood Cells, Lymph Nodes, the Spleen, the Thymus, Red Blood Cells and Bleeding Disorders, the Lung, Head and Neck Pathology, the Gastrointestinal Tract, Liver and Biliary Tracts, the Pancreas, the Kidney, the male and female lower urinary tract, the Breast, the Endocrine System, the Skin / Bones / Soft Tissue Tumors, Peripheral Nerve and Skeletal Muscle, the Central Nervous System, and the Eye.  Clearly, all of these chapters combined hit every organ system from the large to the microscopic, but I listed them as a reference.  The final Unit III, Integrative Reviews, has two long chapters on Clinical Pathology and a Final Review and Assessment that combines information from prior chapters.  Robbins and Cotran Pathology Review can also be purchased for Kindle as an eBook on Amazon, but that is not recommended.


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Must Buy: ACP MKSAP For Students 4

American College of Physicians' Medical Knowledge Self Assessment Program (MKSAP) 4

American College of Physicians' Medical Knowledge Self Assessment Program (MKSAP) 4

The American College of Physicians (ACP) produces a number of resources, but MKSAP For Students 4 is one of the best things they have to offer medical students on inpatient internal medicine or outpatient primary care medicine clerkships. There are a number of USMLE style question banks and books out there, but this one really covers all the bases in these fields.  In case you were wondering, it stands for the “Medical Knowledge Self Assessment Program”.

More valuable than the physical text itself is the CD that comes with every copy.  Questions can be loaded directly onto a computer, which comes in handy if you like to study around town with a laptop. Your progress and answer choices are tracked and can easily be reset at any time. My personal favorite use is loading the question bank onto my smart phone so I can listen to music and answer questions while waiting for the bus.  Keep in mind that certain Android browsers do not support linking through websites that are on the phone itself.  All this means is that you will need to hit the back button and load a new question from the browser instead of just hitting “Next” on the question page itself.

There are a number of different MKSAP question sets, which gets confusing. Bottom line: As a medical student searching for a good book, get MKSAP 4, followed by MKSAP 3 if desired.  An article will be posted soon regarding all the differences, including the higher numbered books.

As for MKSAP 4, it covers all the expected topics, complete with dermatology images and EKG interpretations. Specific chapters include Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Gastroenterology and Hepatology, General Internal Medicine, Hematology, Infectious Disease, Nephrology, Neurology, Oncology, Pulmonary Medicine, Rheumatology.  By the end of the book, you will know every etiology of common presentations such as cough, chest pain, abdominal pain, etc. It really is a great tool for inpatient Internal Medicine, outpatient Internal Medicine, a large portion of Family Medicine, shelf exams, and the USMLE Step 2 CK exam.


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