Category Archive: Neurology Rotation

Best Books and Resources for the Neurology Rotation


This post is part of our series on the best books and resources to help you perform well on your third year rotations and shelf exams. Also check out our lists for clerkships in Internal MedicineFamily MedicineOB/GYNGeneral SurgeryNeurologyPsychiatryPediatrics, and Emergency Medicine. You can also check out our complete list of "Best Books" lists for medical students here

Background: Clerkship Grades

At the beginning of each of these clerkship lists there are a few things I must say. First, your grade on clinical rotations will depend on both your clinical performance and your performance on a shelf exam at the end of the rotation. While it is true that how you work with your teams and patients will play into your evaluation, there is no denying that your knowledge of the subject matter is, by far, the most important part of your final grade because it directly affects both of these two areas of evaluation. As a resident, I currently find myself filling out medical student evaluations every week. There are very few 'incredible' medical students and very few 'terrible' medical students. The vast majority of you (~95%) fit into the "good and easy to work with" group; the only thing you have to set you apart from others is your knowledge base. You have no alternative but to study! First Aid for the Wards is a great resource to understand the dynamics of your clinical rotations, I highly recommend it.

Essential Resources

The resources I will describe in the clerkship lists are books and online question banks. From the onset let me point out two indespesible resources that I will not list for each rotation individually.

  • First, I consider a great online question bank essential. Both Kaplan and USMLE World are very good products. I highly recommend purchasing a one year subscription to one of these USMLE Step 2 question banks. As you complete your third year rotations, these question banks will prepare you for 1- your clinical duties, 2- your rotation shelf exam, and 3- the USMLE Step 2 during your fourth year.  
  • Second, online review materials (e.g. Medscape, UpToDate, etc.) are essential resources to prepare for your patients in the hospital. The books and question banks can never provide the type of in-depth detail about disease processes that you will need to learn how to properly take care of your specific patients. To be a great medical student, you must prepare more profoundly for the diseases you are encountering personally in the hospital.

Book Series for Third Year

Medical students are not all made the same; we are all very different learners. There are a number of companies producing review materials for third year medical students, each with a slightly different focus. Each of these companies produce a different book for each clerkship. Interestingly, some companies' books are rated higher in some clerkships than others. If you find a product that works for you, consider sticking with it during your third year even if that product is not 'rated' as highly for a specific clerkship. Below are a few of the review products and their features.

  1. The Case Files Series: A unique teaching model; the Case Files series introduces a number of important clinical cases and follows them up with clinical pearls and important concepts. For students who need vivid clinical situations to remember factoids and concepts, this is a great series. (Case Files Neurology)
  2. The PreTest Series: The PreTest series is a classic question bank format with questions and detailed explanations. As I previously mentioned, I believe there is no substitute for a great question bank. While an online resource (USMLE World or Kaplan) can be more robust and mobile, a good question book is still a great option. The PreTest series produces a couple fantastic question banks. (PreTest Neurology).
  3. The BluePrints Series: The BluePrints series has a beautiful format that is very easy to read. The text is laid out in a bulleted lists, but with more details and descriptions than the First Aid series with which most students are familiar. I think very highly of these review books. (Blueprints Neurology).
  4. First Aid Clerkship Series: The First Aid series well known to most students also produces review books for third year clerkships. The content is similar to what students are used to, bulleted lists of high yield information. While I highly recommend many of the First Aid review books for USMLE Step preparation, the books are not quite as widely read and recommended for clerkships. (There is no First Aid volume for the neurology clerkship).

Best Books for Neurology Rotation

So, we can agree that books are not sufficient for success on your clerkships, but they are still an incredible resource that you should tap into. Let's review the best books and resources for your Neurology rotation. These lists come from both my experience and also from one medical school's annual survey of its 250 graduating medical students who try to detail which resources were the most useful on their rotations.

Not every medical student will have to complete a neurology rotation during the third year. Therefore, the number of survey responses is a bit less than with the major six rotations. 


1. AAN Question Bank:

The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) provides students with a very good clerkship review in the form of a 100 question quiz. A few medical schools will provide this service to their students. If your school does not, the cost is small (only $25 right now). 


2. Blueprints Neurology:

A solid addition to the Blueprints library, the Neurology volume can be considered a stand-alone review manual for the neurology shelf exam. I would supplement the information in this book with a good question bank either online or in print format.

3. PreTest Neurology:

It is difficult to find quality questions for any shelf exam, and the neurology exam in particular. This q-bank is solid and would be a great companion to the Blueprints text.


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.

Spotlight Interview: Why Did You Choose Neurology?


A Neurology Attending's Perspective: From an interview with a neurology attending at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor

Part of an interview series entitled, "Specialty Spotlights", which asks medical students' most burning questions to physicians of every specialty.  See what doctors from every specialty had to say about why they chose their specialty and how to match in their residency.


  • What attracted you to neurology?

The subject matter was, and still remains, the most interesting part of medicine to me.  I love figuring out where the problem is—the “localize the lesion” question that is the heart of neurology.  But perhaps the most important is that I enjoy the day-to-day interactions with patients:  the types of questions they have, the exams I have to do, the problems we have to deal with…  I saw what it was like in med school, and realized this was my favorite by far.


  • Describe a neurologist's typical work day?

A clinic day is 8-5, with fairly long visits for each patient.  I get 30 minutes for a follow up and 60 for a new.  Most of the visit is getting the history.  In the hospital (teaching hospital with residents), rounds are usually mid-morning, consults in the afternoon.


  • What type of lifestyle can a neurologist expect?  

There are a few neurological emergencies, which are uncommon but usually end up going to an ICU right away.  You can pick a subspecialty that has minimal emergencies.  Most private jobs I see have call q 4-6.  However, call is usually from home, answering questions.  The biggest determinant of lifestyle is reimbursement.  If you have a billable procedure like EMG, botox, EEG, sleep studies, you can pay your salary quite easily and have a very relaxed schedule—probably 50 hours a week at most.  Without a procedure, much more time is necessary, as the visits can last a long time so you may have long clinic hours.  60 hours or so.  Call may be q4-6 but I rarely see attending neurologists in the hospital after 9 PM or before 7 AM.  Usually call is handled from home.


  • What is the potential salary of a neurologist?

A private neurologist will start at about $200-250K.  They will need some procedure (EEG, EMG, sleep studies, botox, etc) to be able to maintain that without a terrible clinic schedule.


  • What is the job market like for neurology?

I get advertisements for neurology positions all over the country, all the time.


  • What are the potential downsides of neurology that students should be aware of?

Seeing patients in clinic takes longer than most specialties but bills the same, which can hurt the reimbursement a lot. Most neurologists need some sub-specialty training to get a procedure like EMG or EEG.  In a private hospital, you stand the risk of being consulted on every mental status change, which is rarely neurologic.  They are easy consults, but could make call very annoying.  Most neurologists just tell the consulting team to get a bunch of tests that night and then see the patient in the AM.


  • Every specialty has a reputation, how do you respond to the reputation of neurologists?

There are two.  The first reputation is that neuro cannot fix anything, only diagnose it.  This is now an archaic idea, since we now can treat almost every disease to some degree: we have acute stroke treatments (tPA), many MS treatments, and neurological diseases are one of the top areas of drug research in all companies.  The second is a reverse reputation (one that we notice ourselves about other physicians):  most physicians are terrified of Neurology, and would often much rather consult us than do a neuro exam.  This is a shame, and leads to some disappointing situations.  But it also generates a bit of an “outsider” image between us and all other specialties, somewhat similar to the disconnection between medicine and surgery.


  • What else would you tell medical students who are considering neurology?

If you like figuring out problems like a medical detective, and if you are a very observant person who likes little details,neurology should be at the top of your list.


Editor's Note: For more help choosing a specialty in medicine, I highly recommend one or both of these two great books. I found both very useful.


The University of Utah Anatomy Tutorials

I recently posted about a great radiology website that is also a good study tool for gross anatomy.  It is i

mportant to remember that most anatomy tests will include a few questions using radiology images.  However, I found that the best way to study anatomy was through anatomy dissection websites.  The University of Utah provides a great website to their students, and it is open for public use too. Their anatomy website is broken up by organ system and features hundreds of images and quizzes.

They have an entirely different site dedicated to neuroanatomy.  This is the clearest and best organized review I could find on the internet. 

In addition to the basic anatomy website, they also have many histological and pathological slides and quizzes.  The histology review on their website was one of the best I could find.  The pathology slides are equally worthwhile, though they are likely more useful for courses other than anatomy.