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Family Medicine Question Book Showdown: NMS Q&A vs PreTest

NMS vs PreTest Family Medicine

Family medicine can be a tricky clerkship in many medical schools due to the vastly different experiences based on location. Some are heavily procedure driven, while others are very hands-off. Some experiences are well balanced, while others exclusively focus on family medicine subspecialization such as dermatology, sports medicine, or ob/gyn clinics.  Regardless of whether you experience an urban or completely middle-of-nowhere rural practice, all students at a given med school take the same final exam, and often times that exam is an NBME shelf.

It is not uncommon for students to feel that clinical experiences on a family medicine rotation do not comprehensively prepare them for the exam, especially when the specialty has such a wide breadth and oftentimes unknown depth. For students who know they learn best with practice questions, the below two titles tend to come up for comparison.

PreTest Family Medicine

PreTest Family Medicine by Doug Knutson continues on in the same style as other titles in the series, providing high yield questions and helpful answers that are geared specifically towards medical students. As each book is written by a different author, there is some variability within the series, but Family Medicine is one of the stronger PreTest titles.

The book is about 5.5 inches wide, which allows it to easily slip into a white coat pocket. This really came in handy during canceled patient appointments that created a good amount of downtime. The 500 USMLE styled questions in the book specifically focus on preventive medicine, doctor-patient issues, acute conditions, and chronic conditions. Question explanations generally go into both right and wrong answers, which helps solidify learning.


NMS Q&A Family MedicineThe National Medical Series for Independent Study (NMS) produced their own Q&A for Family Medicine, written by David Rudy. The book is full sized, meaning there’s no way it can fit within a white coat pocket. However, it does come with a scratch-off on the inside cover, and every owner is a winner! The prize? Online searchable access to every question and answer in the book, making it easy to use from any computer (if your Family Medicine practice happens to have available computers).

It is important to note that the “nearly 500 exam-style questions” advertised on the cover is actually over 900 questions. This brings up one of the larger complaints of the book. Previous editions had a number of spelling errors and even outdated content. While the content appears accurate, some of the typo issues have remained.

Answers in the NMS question book similarly overview all of the right and wrong answers, allowing for a full learning experience. However, the feel of the questions doesn’t parallel USMLE format as much as PreTest. Content seems to be more advanced overall, with more detail. It can probably serve as an effective learning tool well into residency.


The winner: This round goes to PreTest Family Medicine.

Overall, PreTest provides questions that are more geared towards the NBME Family Medicine shelf exam, in both format and content. For a third year medical student who benefits from practice questions and wants a white coat resource, PreTest is the way to go. For those who anticipate blowing through all of the PreTest questions and coming up hungry for more, try out NMS Q&A Family Medicine for more in-depth content as a subsequent resource. Special consideration should be taken by those who plan to enter family medicine as their chosen specialty, in which case the breadth and depth of NMS Q&A may provide a larger challenge with greater long term benefits. Keep in mind that neither of these titles is recommended for USMLE Step 2 CK study, despite both of them advertising it.

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Careful Consideration: Pocket Neurology

Pocket Neurology LippincottPocket Neurology (also known as “The Yellow Book”) can be readily found in the white coats of many Neurology residents. Unlike its Medicine counterpart (The Green Book), Pocket Neurology does not seem to hold the same popularity among medical students. There are a few reasons for this. First, it hasn’t been around as long, and thus it hasn’t had time to built up the full extent of its reputation. Few attendings will readily reference it during rounds, and residents simply won’t expect students to own or have access to a copy. Second, Neurology is usually a clerkship of shorter duration compared to Internal Medicine in most medical schools, and therefore comprehensive pocket guides are less bang for the same buck.

What Pocket Neurology covers, it covers very well.  However the target audience for this title is not the same as for Pocket Medicine as a result of the focus in our medical education. We are taught the core principles of Internal Medicine from an early point on entering medical school, including history taking, physical examination, general findings, and many organ system courses focused on Internal Medicine subspecialties. It is because of this focus that new third year medical students can open a copy of Pocket Medicine and understand the more advanced topics without the need for referencing the basics.

This is not the case on a Neurology rotation, where most students are just starting to learn the specialty’s language, techniques, and the significance of common findings. For example, students may be frustrated if trying to use the book to assess the common presentations of migraine prodrome, despite a concise and comprehensive overview of headache differential diagnosis and workup. Getting past the basics quickly to fully utilize this book is highly recommended, as it will certainly be a strong resource to those who can wield it well.

As with all of the titles in the Pocket Notebook series, downsides include lack of space for annotation, and small print font, but these come with the territory of creating pocket reference guides.  Another consideration for this title specifically is an index section that is somewhat lacking.  Topics not contained within tidy concepts involve a good amount of searching in the appropriate chapter.  As a result, many residents will place labeled flags or earmarks on pages to quickly access commonly referenced topics.

Specific sections include neurologic emergencies, lesion localizing in clinical neurology, neuroimaging, vascular neurology, neurocritical care, acute intracranial hypertension, interventional neurology, seizures and other spells, electroencephalography (EEG), delirium, dementia, movement disorders, behavioral neurology, poisons and vitamin deficiencies, meningitis / encephalitis / brain abscesses, infectious diseases, headache, central nervous system vasculitis, pain, dizziness and deafness, demyeliminating diseases of the central nervous system, spine and spinal cord diseases, motor neuron diseases, peripheral neuropathy, radiculopathy and plexopathy, neuromuscular junction disorders, myopathy, electromyography (EMG), neuro-rheumatology, neuro-oncology, sleep medicine, pregnancy neurology, neuro-ophthalmology, consult issues, and selected pediatric disorders.

Overall, this is a title worth purchasing for all Neurology residents and medical students interested in the field. Medical students who wish to excel in their Neurology clerkship or enter a field that uses neurology such as Internal Medicine, Trauma, or Ophthalmology should consider purchasing Pocket Neurology with the above considerations, based on their personal preferences. This is probably not heavily needed for students who have no interest in neurology.


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How to Reset MKSAP Answers

Since reviewing MKSAP 4 for students previously, we have received a question and several lost googlers trying to ascertain how to reset or restart MKSAP for Students 3, MKSAP for Students 4, and even MKSAP 14 for residents digital question banks.

Resetting these qbanks is straight-forward if you know where to look.  Regardless of whether you are using MKSAP 3, MKSAP 4, or MKSAP 14, the process is generally the same. Just click on Answer Sheet, followed by the Clear Answers button.  That’s it!  You’re all set to restart and reuse your MKSAP question bank.  For the visual learners out there, large purple arrows always help:

How to Reset MKSAP for Students 3 and MKSAP for Students 4

How to Reset MKSAP for Students 3 and MKSAP for Students 4

For the wayward residents who stumbled onto this med student resource site, we’ve also uploaded a visual on how to reset MKSAP 14 as well.

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Books to Avoid: Blueprints Pediatrics

Books to Avoid: Blueprints Pediatrics

Books to Avoid: Blueprints Pediatrics

The purpose of this site is to utilize the first-hand experiences of medical students to create insightful advice when it comes to books and resources.  While many of the resources posted so far have had very positive reviews, it is finally time to recommend avoiding the mistake known as Blueprints Pediatrics.

There are a few reasons why this is a common pitfall for third year med students looking for books on their pediatrics rotation.  First, it is relatively cheap and easy to come by.  Even if you don’t buy it yourself, it’s easy to pick up a free copy that is being given (thrown) away in a med student lounge. Keep in mind it’s being given away for free for a reason.

Secondly, and perhaps the more evil of its qualities, is that it is incredibly easy to read, and herein lies the deceit: reading through Blueprints Pediatrics will make you feel like a medical student superstar genius. You can pick this book up, breeze through any chapter quickly, and feel like you know most of the information already because of your USMLE Step 1 knowledge. Whereas some books really bog the reader down on details, Blueprints Pediatrics takes the exact opposite approach. The end result is a med student who believes they possess mastery of the material for their pediatrics clerkship, when in reality they are ill prepared for the NBME Pediatrics Shelf Exam, NBME Ambulatory Shelf Exam, or wards pimping.

Chapter topics appear like they cover all the bases, but the depth of content is just shallow.  The material it does present is accurate, and there is nothing grossly wrong with the book as far as what it does give.  It just doesn’t give what is truly needed.

As such, I won’t be linking out to online retailers to purchase this book, or using our handy Price Check plugin.  Instead, I recommend Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics (reviewed here), as well as Pre-Test Pediatrics for USMLE style questions.  Better yet, just check back to the section on this site for Pediatrics Books from time to time, as more books are reviewed and added.

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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 First Year Med School Book: Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas

Must Have Med School Book: Haines Neurology and Neuroanatomy Atlas of Structures, Sections, and Systems

Must Have Med School Book: Haines Neurology and Neuroanatomy Atlas of Structures, Sections, and Systems

Haines Neuroanatomy: An Atlas of Structures, Sections, and Systems is another one of those amazing must-have books that can be reliably purchased going into first year medical school. Unlike the differing opinions regarding, general anatomy atlases, this really is the best neuroanatomy textbook for medical school. It is important to differentiate this from a reading-intensive book from which one would use to sit down and learn new concepts.  This is a picture atlas with complementary text specifically relevant to the images, not a text-heavy resource.  Its purpose is not to teach new function, but to provide a structural neurology road map along the fibers of the brain and spinal cord, which it accomplishes very well. Similarly, it is rather difficult to discern the neurology (or general anatomy) structures and pathways just by reading text.  The use of Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas is best used in conjunction with your first year med school Neurology class syllabus and lectures, to specifically prepare you for neurology lab and the exam.  The gold standard of human anatomy, Netter’s Anatomy Atlas (reviewed here), is used in the exact same way.


The atlas features a very clear layout of the spinal cord and brain stem, in an intuitive order.  The key value of the book is all about the two-page spreads that feature “raw” cross sectional neurology images on one page, and labeled cartoon overlays on the opposite page.  This gives you the perspective of the types of images you will see on exams, while still outlining pertinent borders and areas.  If you have a question about where that darker blob ends or what it does, just look at the page above for the border and answer.

Previous Edition of Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas

Previous Edition of Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas

A bit of advice when using Haines Neuroanatomy Atlas: a common mistake many med students make it to bring this book into neurology or neuroanatomy lab with them.  While doing so will allow you to utilize the atlas, it is a most assured method of ruining the book as well. It is nearly impossible to avoid getting preservatives/fixatives and streaked brain bits onto the pages as you and lab partners reach over it and attempt to turn the pages. You should try to avoid doing so and then taking the book home or touching it with bare hands later.

As a reference, this is the latest edition of the popular cover shown right, and should not be confused as being a different book.  The cover on the right also gives you a taste of the types of images in the book itself.

Overall, Haines’ Neuroanatomy Atlas is definitely not one to miss, and should be used for its intended purpose: as a neuroanatomy picture book that provides the visual complement to your preclinical med school Neurology lectures and syllabus.  If you’re going for Honors in preclinical Neurology or your Neurology clerkship, buy this book.



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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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Must Buy: 3m Littmann Cardiology III Stethoscope

Stethoscope Review

3M Littmann Cardiology III Stethoscope

The 3M Littmann  Cardiology III Stethoscope is the best bang for the med student loan-money buck when it comes to superior medical equipment to buy.  Some basic stethoscope knowledge: “bell” and “diaphragm” refer to the two side of older traditional stethoscopes that allow the listener to tune into lower and higher frequencies, respectively. The 3M Littmann  Cardiology III however uses some magical patented technology to produce this affect simply by pushing lightly or firmly. The second smaller side can be used in a similar fashion as a pediatric stethoscope, or converted to a traditional bell (see insert in picture).   Bottom line: this is the only stethoscope that is needed for any medical student throughout medical school and beyond.

The instrument itself usually comes with a 5 year manufacturer warranty, which is perfect because it lasts through intern year.  The ear pieces are comfortable, and a new set will come with an extra pair that are easily changed, but most likely won’t need to be. The entire instrument is very easy to clean, comes in handy on the wards when coming in contact with infectious patients.

There will be a lot of options when trying to purchase a stethoscope, so here are a few pointers.  First, try to stick to the Cardiology III.  Most people believe the Cardiology II simply aren’t as good. You may be tempted to get the limited edition black plated version or spend the extra money on engraving your name into the bell, but keep in mind that there is a small but not negligible population of stethoscope thieves in hospitals.

3m doesn’t sell these directly, so you should do a good amount of searching for the lowest price.  Unlike other medical instruments, this one should be purchased new. The best strategy is to search around, and specifically target individuals who are selling them new. The links below should be a good start.


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