Category Archive: Books

Book Review. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

In "Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance", Dr. Atul Gawande (General Surgeon, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston) attempts to provide the reader with a bird's eye view of what it takes to be better. He uses a vast array of interviews and historical perspectives to highlight what he believes are the pillars of become better in everything we do. Of course, the stories and perspectives revolve around medicine and hospitals, but you will be surprised to learn how diverse the various examples are in pinpointing what it means to become better. He uses examples of hospital teams improving the survival of patients with a certain disease, the historical accounts of improving health care through hand washing, an inspiring story of an attempt to eradicate Polio in India, and even a riveting tale of a physician-turned-malpractice lawyer who abandoned the stethoscope for law school. Though eclectic in their descriptions, each aims to hone in on the skills one needs to improve.

I think the goal of "Better" is noble. I also think the core content is interesting and through provoking. I even agree that physicians and medicine should be the ones to be pushing this envelope, trying every day to be better and to improve. It seems like this should be our job in society, if nothing else. And for this, I applaude Dr. Gawande and the goal of this book. However, I must admit that the product did not quite meet the goal of this book.

I have hesitated to write this review, because I know that so many other people, including many other docs, loved "Better". But, I must be honest and admit that this is not one of Gawande's better books. Perhaps I have held him up to an unhealthy standard after "Being Mortal", the book that got me started on Dr. Gawande, and one I think is a must-read for everyone, not just those in medicine. The problem with "Better" is that in the midst of all of its fascinating mini-stories (a hallmark of Dr. Gawande's writing) the actual goal of the book is lost on the reader. He can't quite pull all of the information together to drive home his ideas. It is almost as if he has not quite formalized the ideas of how to become better in his own head. For this I do not fault him. Certainly, he has come much closer to organizing the idea of improvement much better than I, or most other people can. But, unfortunately, mini-stories in this book are sporadic and, in the end, the sum of the parts of "Better" probably equals more than the whole.

Conclusion: "Better" by Dr. Atul Gawande is a good read, but not a must read. I give it a ShortWhiteCoat Step 1 score of 225.



Best Books for USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS)

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3.

As many of you know, the pass rate for USMLE Step 2 CS is very high, usually 97% or 98% for first-time test takers from the USA. Many will take that to mean that they don't need to study, but I think it means something slightly different. Here is a 2% that you really don't want to be part of! Studying for Step 2 CS is really not difficult, you already know the material, you just have to learn about the test. I don't think you need to spend much time studying, but reading one or two review books will prepare you in three ways 

  1. what the test will be like,
  2. what you will be tested on (it's NOT just the medical content!)
  3. a review of the most commonly tested cases. 

I will list the two most widely used books and highlight some subtle differences. You really only need one of these. Good Luck.

  • Updated June 2015

1. First Aid for Step 2 CS:

This book will prepare you for what to expect in the testing center. I felt much more comfortable just know what was going to happen, step by step, after reading this book.I think this is the strength of this book, it lays out the nature of the exam very well. There is also a good review of some of the highest yield cases you might encounter during the clinical skills test. This book prepares students very well for the Integrated Clinical Encounter (ICE) portion of the exam. For most people, reading through this book one time would be sufficient prior to taking the USMLE Step 2 CS.


2. Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CS Core Cases:

Like the First Aid book, Kaplan's USMLE Step 2 CS book is a great resource and one quick read through it would be sufficient for most students. The one thing that Kaplan's book has is a better explanation of how to act during the exam so you can maximize Communication and Interpretation Skills (CIS) portion of the exam. Browse the format of each book, you probably just need to choose one.


Top Ten Books for the USMLE Step 2 CK Exam

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3.

There is a lot of weight placed on the USMLE Step 1 exam as it has a significant effect on how competitive you are as a residency candidate. I submit to you that the UMSLE Step 2 CK is far more important in the long run because it will test you on things that are actually relevant to your future practice and your patients. You take Step 1 for yourself, you take Step 2 for your patients. This is stuff that we all just need to know. So, don't worry about score and just worry about the material, your patients will be greatful.  Below is a list of the books I found most helpful for USMLE Step 2 CK. 

  • Updated May 2015

1. First Aid for Step 2 CK:

There are a few brands that have never let me down in USMLE test preparation: First Aid, Kaplan, and USMLE World. I swear by First Aid for Step 1, and I found First Aid for Step 2 to be nearly as concise and comprehensive. A great resource


2. USMLE Step 2 Secrets:

This is a fantastic summary book that does not take long to read. Rather than a list of all the facts, like First Aid give you, Secrets gives the reader a great review of high yield information. This would be a great book to read the week or two before the exam to help you pick up a number of extra nuggets.


3. Crush Step 2:

Crush Step 2 is written by the same author as USMLE Step 2 Secrets (#2). The content of the two books is mostly the same. Crush Step 2 is written in prose and paragraphs rather than in clinical scenarios and question format. Decide which format you prefer, because you certainly wouldn't need both books.


4. Master the Boards, USMLE Step 2 CK:

This book induces a borderline personality disorder. Some students love it, some students hate it. The book does not attempt to be a complete review, it tries to hit hard only the high yield points. Students who are looking for a more complete review of the information should probably not purchase this book.


5. Step-Up to Medicine:

This is a tried and true book for many aspects of the second half of medical school. A great book for many rotations and shelf exams, it is also a fantastic preparation USMLE Step 2 CK. Much of this board exam will rely on basic internal medicine knowledge. The book is also great for Step 3, so you can kill two birds with one stone. 


6. Kaplan USMLE Step 2 Qbook:

If you frequent this website, you know that I believe STRONGLY that the best way to prepare for a board exam made up of hundreds of questions is to do thousands of questions. I really like both Kaplan's online QBank as well as USMLE World's online QBank. However, you are not always at a computer and you will find that question books are a nice rest from the screen. Kaplan's Step 2 Qbooks one of the best on the market.

7. First Aid Cases, USMLE Step 2:

Like Kaplan's Step 2 Qbook (#6), the First Aid company has also produced some great print question banks. The 'Cases" book is a case-based approach with great review questions. In addition, they also publish First Aid Q&A for the USMLE Step 2 CK which rivals Kaplan's Step 2 Qbook as the best print question book on the market.

8. Kaplan USMLE Step 2 Lecture Notes:

Recently, Kaplan has allowed students to purchase their complete Lecture Notes for board exams, including these Step 2 notes, without actually taking their in-person classes. This was not always the case. I have used these texts and I was very impressed. Altogether these review books are very long and very expensive. However, they come from a company that knows very well how to get students good exam scores.


9. Step-Up to USMLE Step 2:

It may seem counter-intuitive, but I prefer Step-Up to Medicine (#5) as a Step 2 study resource to the book that Step-Up wrote specifically for Step 2. I used the second edition of Step-Up to USMLE Step 2 and it was good, but from what I am hearing the third edition has a poor layout and not well updated. 


10. Travel Book du jour:

You need to study for Step 2, it will help you be a better intern and resident. However, you are probably a fourth year student getting ready to fly around the country. You may not ever travel this much in this short of a time. Here is some unsolicited advice, take an hour to enjoy the city you are in…so see some of the stuff in this book.


Comparing the Best Human Anatomy Atlases

Choosing the right anatomy atlas is a stressful decision, and one that is quite important. For many of you (students in medical, dental, optometry, and podiatry school) this will be one of the first decision you must make at your professional school. In order to help you sort through some of the most popular choices, let me highlight some of the pros and cons of each text.  I am a firm believer that education should be tailored to the student. If your school/teacher tells you to buy a certain anatomy atlas, do not listen. This is like telling a left handed student that he/she must take a test using their right hand.  You must find a text that allows you to learn best. There are many options and each has its own strengths.


Check out each atlas on, you can browse the pages of each book in full color by clicking the "Click To Look Inside" tab over each book. This is the best way to see what you are going to like.

  • Updated April 2015

1. Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy:

The Netter's  Atlas of Human Anatomy is the best selling anatomy atlas in the country, and my personal favorite.  The images are bright and colorful. The detail is crisp and memorable. I am a visual learner, and the bright images helped me focus and remember better. In fact, the images were so vibrant that I could often see them in my head during tests, allowing me to remember specific details in each image.  One downside to this atlas is its relative lack of information and detail. There is no text other than anatomy labels. There are no clinical correlations. There are not as many structures labeled as some other texts.

2. Rohen's Color Atlas of Anatomy:

Unfortunately for me, I did not learn about Rohen's Color Atlas of Anatomy: A Photographic Study of the Human Body until after my anatomy class. Had I known about this book, or seen it at all, I absolutely would have purchased this right off the bat.  Unlike many other atlases, the focus of Rohen's are real life photographs. There are beautifully dissected bodies, bones, and radiographs showing each structure. Where the anatomy becomes confusing, Rohen's uses color labeling to help students understand where structures are located in three dimensions. The images are high definition and very memorable.  The layout is crisp and clear.  I can not think of a downside to Rohen's. Perhaps if you do not want to look at real photos but rather artists' renderings, this would not be for you. Because the text uses photos, it is more difficult to see the fine and subtle differences in some structures. However, in my opinion, this is real life and your practice exam will not be based on artist's anatomy drawings.

3. Gilroy's Atlas of Anatomy

Gilroy's  Atlas of Anatomy does not seem like anything special at first glance. However, I have never met someone who used the Gilroy atlas and did not love it. In fact, it holds the #2 position for Best Selling Anatomy Books on Amazon!  One very useful aspect of the Gilroy text are the clinically oriented tables and boxes. In nearly every section, the text focuses on some of the most important clinical correlations related to the structures being discussed. These tables are clear and concise. While you can achieve the same information with a clinical anatomy book, some prefer to have both sets of information in the same place.  The downside in my opinion are the quite pedestrian images, but this does not bother most students.

4. Grant's Atlas of Anatomy:

Grant's Atlas of Anatomy is a well known text with a great history and crisp images similar to the Gilroy text. Many students use the companion, Grant's Dissector, in the anatomy lab. The images in the dissector are similar to the full text book. Many students at my school enjoyed this text and felt like there was a perfect mix of anatomy plates to clinical correlations in the book.  This is a no-frills purchase: it is one of the cheaper atlases but provides everything a student would need.

5. Thieme's Atlas of Anatomy:

The Thieme General Atlas of Anatomy is well liked by its users, just Google the title and you will find loads of students who love it. However, I have never actually met a student who used it. We had a couple copies in our library, but no one every looked at them.  If you are a textbook lover, you might want to look at the Thieme book. It reads more like a textbook than an anatomy atlas.

6. Clemente's Anatomy:

Little known Clemente's  Anatomy: A Regional Atlas of the Human Body is a sort of cult-favorite atlas. Many believe the illustrations in Clemente are the best on the market. They are clear and straight forward.  There is a good mix of clinical information. The price is low, and the satisfaction is high.  I have not used Clemente's but those who have used it say that they would use it again.

7. Gray's Atlas of Anatomy:

Gray’s Atlas of Anatomy is one of histories best-known atlases. However, I think that the atlases listed above have surpassed this historical text. There are newer versions, but I fear the TV show named after the atlas will forever be more famous than that atlas itself.  The images are nice and there are a number of photos and radiologic images which accompany the anatomy illustrates. Because of Gray's historical status, it warrants a few minutes to flip through the pages, but I would not purchase this text myself.

8. Sabotta Atlas of Antaomy

Sobotta – Atlas of Human Anatomy was introduced to me through a reader of this site. I did not have any exposure to it prior to the comment below. After reviewing the atlas at length I must admit that it is very impressive. The images are clear. There is ample text to explain clinical correlations. And, most importantly, the text can be purchased in a two volume set. This will decrease the load on your back by about 15 pounds every day. This is actually a very nice feature

 Did you use a great atlas that is not on this list?  Tell me about it!

Top Ten Books for the USMLE Step 1

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3.

Before I plunge into the Top 10 books for Step 1 let me first explain that books were only the second best resource for me while studying for Step 1.  I found question banks to be the most efficient means of studying for Step 1. In order to do well on an 8 hour test, you need to be accustomed to doing hundreds of questions in a day.  Doing well on Step 1 is not just a question of learning the info in the books I list below, but also a question of developing the stamina to say focused on the 349th question of the day….it is like preparing for a marathon. USMLEworld and the Kaplan Q-bank in my opinion are the best resources for preparing for Step 1, but you can not do questions for 1 month straight, you need to spend some time in books. Now for the books…

  • Updated April 2015

1. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1:

I don't know how they do it, but the First Aid people have an unbelievable ability to know exactly what is important to the people who write board questions.  First Aid is reprinted each year. I suggest buying one copy early in med school and study from it while you study for your other classes. Then, purchase the new copy when you are studying for Step 1.  First Aid is not sufficient for Step 1, but it should be required reading for all students as it highlights the stuff that you absolutely must know. Some students also recommend Kaplan's MedEssentials for the USMLE Step 1

2. BRS Pathology:

Another required book for Step 1 is a pathology review book. The two most commonly used books are BRS Pathology and Goljan's Rapid Review Pathology (#3). I prefer the BRS book because it is a no-nonsense text with a few pictures and tables but mostly focused on simple and clear text.  You should browse through both books before deciding which one you will use.

3. Rapid Review Pathology:

The other famous pathology review text for Step 1. This book is written by Dr. Goljan of "Goljan Lectures" fame. (If you do not have these lectures, see my article and links about the subject because they are fantastic). The content is similar to the BRS Pathology text but the delivery is quite different. This text is more visually appealing with colors, images, and many tables. Pick your poison.

4. BRS Physiology:

A broad physiology text is another book that most students use when studying for USMLE Step 1. It is unlikely that you will learn anything new when ready a physiology text. However, a physiology text will help you cement concepts in your mind. A great understanding of physiology will help answer the difficult Step 1 questions. I found that reading the physiology text for one organ system, then the pathology text and First Aid for the same was great preparation for questions on that subject.

5. High Yield Biostatistics:

You can not forget the small categories that are tested on Step 1. Biostat/epidemiology is one of these areas. I am sure I had 10-15 questions on these topics. The High Yield book is quick and easy; you can get through it in just a few hours. Don't go into the test without knowing all forms of bias and all calculations of a two-by-two table.

6. BRS Behavioral Science:

The behavioral sciences will also take up at least 5-10 of your Step 1 questions. These are hard to study for but you must find a way to do it. There are a few books options in this category, the great asset of the BRS book are about 15-20 questions at the end of each chapter. Many students swear by High-Yield Behavioral Science. This book is also very good, more concise, and easy to read. It does not have questions.

7. MicroCards:

Flashcards will give you a nice break from question banks and books. MicroCards have a ton of information. It may seem like some of the information is superfluous, but after taking the exam you will realize that many Step 1 questions ask very specific questions about bacterial anatomy and antibiotic targets.  I will never forget that on my Step 1 they wanted me to know the treatment for sporothrix schenckii.  So, yea, get some microcards.

8. PharmCards:

This is another set of flashcards that you can use in the bus, at night on the bed, during lunch, etc. Like MicroCards, these cards have a ton of information. However, you will be asked some very specific questions. One example I still remember is being asked the mechanism of action of ethosuximide.  Even though it is "Step 1" they will still ask pharm quesions.

9. First Aid Cases for USMLE Step 1:

You will find a common theme here: find something to break up the books and question banks. Though questions and the first 4 books will be your main ammunition to study for Step 1, you can not do that for a whole month. Flash cards and cases will help break things up while still learning and picking up some questions. The First Aid case book is very good and highly recommended by all. I used case books when my mind was tired of memorizing, and I think they helped me pick up a few questions. Most of you are also familiar with Kaplan's USMLE Step 1 QBook in print format, which is another great distraction of texts and computer questions.

10. USMLE Step 1 Secrets:

I did not use this book. I had heard good things during medical school, but it never made it into my bag. Since I wrote this post I have had numerous students write to me and explain that book became a foundation for them. As the book states in its Preface, it is not a stand-alone resource. The book aims to add clinical context to the data you will glean from texts and First Aid. I place it tenth on my list only because I do not know its true power. After reading through the book after-the-fact, I am convinced that I would have used it quite frequently during my study time.


Best Books for Medical School: Fourth Year

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3. 

Look, I get it. You are a fourth year student now and you are tired of reading textbooks. Let me suggest just a few books that every fourth year should read.  Remember, you are about to apply for, interview for, and rank your prospective residency programs: i.e. the most important training step in your career.  Once those interview are over, kick back with a Frommer's Travel Guide and watch "Like an M4".  Live it up while you can.

  • Updated April 2015

First Aid for the Match:

The 'First Aid' series is usually at the top of my lists they again deserve that honor for 4th year students. First Aid for the Match is a must read for anyone preparing your residency application, going on interviews, ranking programs, and getting ready for the match. You really need to know how it all works or you might hurt your chances of matching. Read this book.

The Successful Match:

This book is written in a 'Self-Help' format but contains loads of great information. It is highly recommended by nearly all of its readers and is ranked on the top of most "How To Match" resource lists. You aren't doing much else this year!  Read it and you will not be disappointed.

The Residency Interview: How to Make the Best Possible Impression:

Dr. Freeman's book is well known to many 4th year medical students. She has a wise and logical approach to making a good impression. The truth is, most of us are not actually very good at putting our best foot forward. Take some time (something you don't lack during the 4th year!) and read through this book. At the very least, it will help you enter your interviews with more confidence.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty:

Are you a fourth year and still undecided?  I know the feeling; it is terrible. Along with the Careers in Medicine website, this book was very helpful and influential in my decision making process. It helps readers decide what is most important to them and helps delineate what makes different specialties unique.

Pocket Medicine:

If you have not already purchased this resource (or a similar one that fits in your white coat) you really ought to find one.  During your sub-internship months you will all of the sudden have some real responsibility and you will need to look up vital information on the fly. Pocket Medicine is a great resource to quickly read about the next admission you are picking up so you can prepare yourself.


Top Ten Books for Third Year Medical Students

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3. 

Choosing a top ten list for the third year of medical school was a lesson for me in biting off more than one can chew. I will soon be compiling top ten lists for each of the core rotations in medical school, which will be a more manageable list. However, there are common themes during this very important year of training, and you will be testing the waters of many potential future specialties. I think these books will help with these endevours. 

  • Updated April 2015

1. First Aid for the Wards:

Beginning the third year of medical school is a daunting task. I shook like a little kid the first time I had to present on rounds. In retrospect, I wish I had read this book before I ever started third year. It provides great advice about prerounding, rounding, presenting patients, and working with your clinical team. It also gives rotation specific advice for each of the main third year clinical clerkships.

2. Pocket Medicine:

I consider pocket medicine a must-have for all students and residents. I used it during medical school and am still using it in residency. It highlights all the most common clinical illnesses and presentations. For each illness it describes the clinical presentation, signs and symptoms, diagnostic tools, and treatment plan.

3. Maxwell Quick Medical Reference:

A small book with a big role. Nearly every medical student I know carries this book in their white coat. It contains clinical pearls and references that are very high yield. Additionally, it contains sample notes (progress, transfer, procedure, admission, etc).  It is about the best $10 you can spend.

4. Case Files:

The Case Files Series (Amazon link) is my favorite clerkship study series. Similar to the Pretest Series (#5) and the Blueprint Series (#6), Case Files publishes one book for each medical student clerkship. The book teaches principles through a series of 50-60 cases.  After each case is presented, the relevant clinical teaching points are discussed and followed with a series of questions. For my style of learning, this was the ultimate study tool during third year. I particularly recommend Case Files Neurology and Case Files Family Medicine. .

5. PreTest:

Another series of books for each medical student rotation, the PreTest Series (Amazon Link) are simply question banks in print form. Their questions are very good and hit on relevant material. Although I prefer USMLEworld as a straight question bank tool, the Pretest books allow you to always have questions at your side for bus rides, downtime at the hospital, etc. Along with many medical students, I particularly recommend PreTest Pediatrics, which was eerily similar to the shelf exam.


6. BluePrints:

The BluePrints Series is a third series with one book for each medical school clerkship. Unlike the case-based presentation of Case Files and the q-bank format of PreTest, the Blueprints series are more like textbooks. They aim to teach the most pertinent clinical facts without becoming too dense. Each book is about 300 pages and contains a wealth of information…if you can get through it. Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology is widely considered the most useful; I used it and did very well on the shelf.

7. Surgical Recall:

If you are interested in surgery or just interested in obtaining a good grade in your surgery rotation, you need to know what is going on in the OR. Surgical Recall provides step-by-step details of surgical procedures including surgical indications, pre-operative management, intra-operative management including a walk-through of the surgery, and post-op management. It will really help you shine in the OR.

8. First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK:

Yes, you will probably find a 'First Aid' book in each of my Top Ten book lists. This is because I have found them to be the best tool at solidifying the most important points of each phase of medical school. During third year the First Aid for Step 2 CK (Clinical Knowledge) was a great way to make sure I knew the most important facts. It is certainly not sufficient to study alone.

9. Dr. Pestana's Surgery Notes:

Dr. Pestana's notes are an absolutely necessary resource for students on the Surgery rotation. The notes provide real-world examples that combine pathophysiology with surgical patients. Complications, surgical decision making, and post-operative care are all addressed. I was shocked at how high yield these notes were when I took the shelf exam.

10. Step-Up to Medicine:

You will also find this book at the top of my list for the the internal medicine rotation. However, it is so good that I thought I should mention it here too. The book comes highly recommended by nearly every student that has ever used it. It will give you a great base to study from and find out what you need to study more.

Honorable Mention:
  1. I can not create a list of study tools for third year medical students without mentioning USMLEworld.  After using many Q-banks, many question books, and other resources, I have concluded that USMLEworld provides questions most consistently similar to the real shelf exams and boards as well as provided the clearest explanations.
  2. Success on the Wards: 250 Rules for Clerkship Success is a highly rated book for third year students
  3. 250 Biggest Mistakes 3rd Year Medical Students Make and How to Avoid Them is written as the same authors as "Success on the Wards" and also comes highly recommended.
  4. The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. Really, this books should be in the Top Ten.  I left it off because it is not specifically for third year medical students. However, it is one of the best resources available for deciding what is important to you in a specialty, and comparing variables across all medical specialties. I highly recommend it.

Top Ten Books for Second Year Medical Students

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3. 

Organ systems will be the focus of most medical students during their second year of medical school. My Top Ten list for second year students follows this trend. In addition, it is never too early to start focusing your studying toward the USMLE Step 1, so a number of my suggests reflect this. For real Gunners who want to have Step 1 review materials during the entire second year, I recommend the Kaplan’s USMLE® Step 1 Lecture Notes 2015. As I have said in other posts, I am a fan of the Kaplan books. I am not paid by them, I just think they have a good product. Good Luck.

  • Updated April 2015

1. First Aid for the Basic Sciences, Organ Systems:

Organ Systems is similar to the First Aid book tailored for first year medical students, First Aid for the Basic Sciences, General Principles. The book is broad review of the systems based courses most often encountered during the second year of medical school. Some schools utilize a completely organ based system and this book might be useful during the first year as well. The First Aid series is a fantastic review tool and something to help drive home the most important points for your tests and for Step 1, but the First Aid series is never sufficient and should be supplemented with other materials. You can get a $40 discount if you buy both the Organ System books together on Amazon. Click Here: First Aid Basic Sciences (VALUE PACK)

2. Pharmcards:

Not only will these save you hours of time you would spend making your own flashcards, they have all the information you need for your first two years and Step 1. I used the Pharmcards brand (link to the right), however many students have told me great things about the competitor, Lange Pharmacology Flash Cards.

3. Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple:

A medical student favorite. Nearly everyone uses this book, and for good reason. It makes the 'bugs and drugs' months of med school much more concise and tolerable. It is also great preparation for Step 1.

4. Rapid Interpretation of EKGs:

A must for learning EKG and for reviewing EKG interpretation later in your schooling and career. I learned EKGs first with this book and I still use it for reference during residency. Great book.

5. High Yield Neuroanatomy:

One of the best of the fantastic High Yield Series (Amazon link). I also highly recommend High Yield Embryology, Immunology, and Biostatistics for second year students. Each is rated very well by students.

6. BRS Pathology (or Goljan Rapid Review Pathology):

You will benefit from a basic pathology book during your second year. Use it to get a broad understanding of each subject at the beginning and end of each class you take. I prefer the BRS book, but many students prefer the Goljan Pathology book.  Later in this list I will suggest a full path textbook, but this is more for reference than studying.

7. Lippincott's Microcards:

Like the Pharmcards discussed above, I found these flashcards to be high yield and very efficient. You will save time by not making your own flashcards and they have all the necessary information.

8. First Aid for Step 1:

You should buy this book early in medical school and make it your regular study companion. They publish a new version each year, it is probably not a bad idea to get one edition early and another one to study with for Step 1. Remember, your first two years are there to prepare you for Step 1.

9. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease:

Large pathology texts can be dense, but they can be fantastic reference material. I have many times used this book when I have tried to learn a new concept or disease pathophysiology. The Robbins text is well written and easy to understand. It has always had the answer I was looking for.

10. BRS Physiology:

I like the BRS series. I did not learn about them until I began studying for boards. I wished I had bought them earlier because they are a great way to get a broad picture of organ systems and can really help put everything together.  My knowledge of physiology and pathology were much more clear after reading the BRS books.


Top Ten Books for First Year Medical Students

This list is part of a series of articles about the best books for medical students. Click on the Med School Books Main Page to see other lists including the best books for each year in medical school, the best books for each clinical rotation, and the best books for USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3. 

  • Updated April 2015

In this list I will review books used in the basic science courses in medical school.  If you are interested in microbiology, pharmacology, and systems based books check out my list of the Top Ten Books for Second Year Medical Students.

1. Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy:

You can not live without an atlas while you are studying gross anatomy. There are a number of atlases to choose from and choosing 'the best atlas' for med school depends on how you learn. Netter's atlas is brightly colored with finely demarcated images.  There is very little text and the atlas focuses solely on great drawings.  This is my favorite. If you are not a fan of Netter's, there are plenty of other options. Grant's Atlas of Anatomyis widely used by many medical students; it contains more detailed images and text that highlights some important clinical relationships. Check out these other Amazon links if you want to learn more about the other options available. Gray's Anatomy Clemente's Anatomy Rohen's Color Atlas of Anatomy Fellow bloggers over at have written a concise, well organized review of the differences between each atlas.  I recommend you read their comments on the subject. (link)

2. Med School Confidential: 

This book is like having a life coach next to you as you start medical school. It describes every part of medical school and is a great guide through the process of applying, starting med school, boards, wards, and applying for residency. It is a great read, and as you can see from the reviews on Amazon, everyone loves it.

3. Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards:

Just like an anatomy atlas, there are many options to choose from in this category. I found flash cards even more helpful than the anatomy textbook.  I rode the bus to school most mornings and could go through 10 or so flash cards a day.  It is a great way to study while on the move and it gives you some time away from books.  I used Netter's, because they were so pretty! Many students also rave about Kaplan Anatomy Flashcards .

4. Clinically Oriented Anatomy:

In addition to an anatomy atlas and anatomy flash cards, an anatomy textbook is a must have.  You will be tested on anatomy identification in the anatomy lab. However, most of your test questions will come from clinical relationships in anatomy. A good anatomy text is crucial to understanding these relationships. This was my favorite.

5. Grant's Dissector:

Most medical students are required to purchase a dissector during gross anatomy.  My advice?  Get a second copy that never gets soaked in formaldehyde.  Skim over the text before anatomy tests and make sure you know ALL the bold terms.

6. High Yield Embryology:

The High Yield series is very good, but this is their best product. (High Yield Series, Amazon Link) Embryology can be terribly difficult to understand, but this book made it much more clear while I was studying.  If you like what you read, you should also check out High-Yield Gross Anatomy and High-Yield Biochemistry. .

7. Lippincott's Illustrated Review of Biochemistry:

We all have to take a biochem test in medical school, and we all hate it.  There is no relaxing or enjoyable way to memorize the Kreb's Cycle, but this book is the most efficient and high yield resource that I have found.

8. First Aid for the Basic Sciences, General Principles:

The First Aid series is one of the jewels of medical school. You will certainly learn this as you are studying for Step 1. However, their texts for first and second year medical school coursework are also very good. First Aid books are never sufficient, but they are great tools to help you learn the most important points and should be used in conjunction with other texts and tools.  The Basic Sciences book is a great companion throughout most of your first year courses. (It's companion, First Aid for the Basic Sciences: Organ Systems, is a similarly great tool for the second year). You can get a $40 discount if you buy both the Organ System books together on Amazon. Click Here: First Aid Basic Sciences (VALUE PACK)

9. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1:

There is no reason to wait.  Buy this book the first day of medical school and make it your best friend.  The people over there at First Aid have an uncanny knack for knowing what will be asked on the boards (trust me, I've used their books for Step 1, Step 2 CS, Step2 CK and Step 3! They have been SPOT ON each time!).  It is important to learn the nitty gritty of each course you take so you can do well on your exams, but it is also important to know what you actually need to take away from those courses.  This is where First Aid comes in. Use it as a brief review of the most important topics for each course.

10. Kaplan's USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes:

Yes, this is expensive. Yes, it is just a summary of everything you are already learning. However, Kaplan is a good product. No, they are not paying me to say this. I just think they are a very concise product and I have had a lot of success with them. These notes are only recently available. They are more in depth than First Aid for Step 1. They would make a great study partner