Category Archive: Psychiatry Rotation

Best Books and Resources for the Psychiatry 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 Psychiatry)
  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 Psychiatry).
  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 Psychiatry).
  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. (First Aid Psychiatry).

Best Books for Psychiatry 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 Psychiatry 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.

Psychiatry is one of the very unique clinical clerkships that you will encounter during medical school. There is little overlap of the material you will need to know in psychiatry with the rest of your clinical rotations. The good news is that the material you must master for your psychiatry clerkship is not intellectually demanding. The truth is, the material you need to impress on rounds and on the shelf exam are simple lists of diseases, drugs, and side effects. You must master the psychiatric diagnosis and you must know how the differ from each other, even though the differences are very subtle. You must also master the side effects of the psychotropic medications, this is very high yield information. Luckily, all of this material is easily packed into a single review book.


1. First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship:

This is, by far, the best volume in the First Aid Clerkship series. First Aid for Psychiatry is truly fantastic. This is my own personal belief and the believe of nearly all medical students, as the book tops all my lists. The bullet-list format of First Aid is perfect for the bullett-list information you need to learn about psychiatry. Rather than reading a second book, I actually read through this book two times and this was my best shelf.  


2. Case Files Psychiatry:

Many students belive Case Files Psychiatry is a great book and can be a great companion to the First Aid text. However, nearly all students agree that it should not take the place of the First Aid text. 

3. Lange Q&A Psychiatry:

Both Kaplan and USMLE World have great questions for psychiatry. If you are looking for great questions in print format, the Lange text is a great choice. This book has a wide variety of great questions and is very highly rated by students.


Spotlight Interview: Matching in Psychiatry

 A Psychiatry Resident’s Perspective:  From an interview with Dr. Frazier a psychiatry resident at UC Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, California

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.


  • How competitive is the psychiatry match?

Overall, it is not a very competitive specialty.


  •  What must a student do to match well in psychiatry?

Mainly, you must show interest in the field. Let people know you’re interested when you’re in your rotation. Doing some research also helps you know if you like the field. Research may also help to get a good letter from someone at your university.


  • What are residencies looking for in a psychiatry applicant?
Solid letters of recommendation, a good personality (more important here than in many other specialties), to a lesser extent good board scores (not as important, but they will definitely help you!)


  • What should students look for in a psychiatry residency?

Look for a program that trains physicians in what you want to do. Are you interested in research? Choose a program that supports that. Are you interested in clinical work? Choose one that focuses more on that. Also, make sure you get along with the residents. I recommend an away rotation to your top school(s) if you can.


  • Do you have any advice on the application, letters of recommendation, personal statements, or how to rank programs?

Identify your letter writers early on. A few from psychiatry, one from medicine, one from family medicine or something else. For ranking, just choose the place that you want the most. Don’t try to game the system!


  • What do you wish you knew before application/interview season?  

Interviews are generally very laid back. Still prepare, but don’t stress them too much. Have a few questions for the interviewers.


  • What other advice do you have for students applying to psychiatry residency?

Again, identify letter writers early. They mean a lot for residency in general, but maybe even more for psychiatry. Other than that, enjoy your career!


Editor's Note: Applying for residency or preparing for your interviews? I highly recommend First Aid for the Match, The Successful Match: 200 Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match, and The Residency Interview: How To Make the Best Possible Impression .


Spotlight Interview: Why did you choose psychiatry?

A Psychiatry Resident’s Perspective: From an interview with a psychiatry resident at UC Irvine in Irvine, California

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 Psychiatry?

I like the idea of working with the whole person. I feel like in psychiatry you address a person’s social, financial, and relationship concerns, which in my mind are the most important part of life.


  • Describe a Psychiatrist’s typical work day?

There are different fields in psychiatry, but what I’m interested in is private practice. I’ll probably end up splitting my days between therapy and medication management appointments. Therapy appointments usually go an hour, med management about 15-20 minutes. In those visits the person already has a therapist but consults a psychiatrist for medications.

You can also work in an inpatient setting in a hospital, work for the prison system, do telemedicine (something else I’m interested in), work with children, geriatrics, forensic, or almost anything else you want. I like the variety of the specialty.


  • What type of lifestyle can a Psychiatrist expect?  

Psychiatry has the big advantage of being a less demanding specialty. Depending on your working situation, you might be on call once a week or so. Even the psychiatry residency usually has weekends off! Most private practice psychiatrists work around 30 hours per week.


  • What is the average salary of a Psychiatrist?

Again depends on your situation, but you’ll see something like $200,000 as an average. In California, psychiatrists generally take cash only and charge around $300 an hour.


  • What is the job market like for Psychiatrist?

There’s a big need for psychiatrists. In particular, child psychiatry needs more people.


  • What can you tell us about Psychiatry Sub-specialties?

Child psychiatry: 2 extra years after residency (but you can eliminate your 4th year of adult and make it 5 years total for adult and child). There is more demand for this field. The salary is generally higher. The lifestyle is about the same for this and all the others.

Forensic psychiatry: 1 extra year. Harder to get a footing in this one, but pays very well once you do ($1000 per hour for testifying in court). Custody hearings can be part of this specialty.

Geriatric psychiatry: 1 year. Not too sure about the job market. I imagine it’s in high demand. Probably similar salary to adult.


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

It definitely takes a certain personality to do the job and do it well. You need to be able to separate yourself from some of the sad stories you’ll come across. You also need to be able to set boundaries well with people.


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

It’s a great job and something to definitely consider. Some people say there’s not much medicine involved, which is as true as you make it. You can definitely go a more therapy-centered route if you prefer. But, if you love the medicine and research side, there’s plenty of opportunity for that as well. The brain isn’t very well understood.


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.


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.

Conversion Disorder vs Factitious Disorder vs Malingering

Conversion disorder, factitious disorder, and malingering have one major characteristic in common: they represent conditions that are not ‘real’.  However, ‘real’ is a vague word and it is important to understand the differences between these conditions.  Properly diagnosing your patient with one of these psychiatric ailments will allow you to create appropriate plans of care for your patients.

1. Conversion Disorder: is a psychiatric condition that results in a neurological complaint or symptom, without any underlying neurological cause.  Patient’s may experience seizures (i.e. ‘pseudoseizures’), weakness, non-responsiveness, numbness, and even vision loss.  The symptoms are not intentional, the patient is not faking or intentionally creating his/her complaints, yet upon further investigation no biological explanation for the symptoms can be found.  The symptoms, therefore, are ‘real’ to the patient but are not caused by any ‘real’ pathology.  The current thought is that the symptoms are somehow caused by an overload of emotional stress in the body. The name “conversion disorder” comes from Sigmund Freud who stated that stress can cause a psychiatric ailment to ‘convert’ to a medical problem.  Do not fall into the trap, however, of many students/doctors/nurses who say the patient is ‘faking’.  While you may know that a patient complaining of sudden vision loss has a completely healthy eye without disease, the patient’s eye and brain are actually NOT processing any sight.  Alternatively, a case that I have seen a number of times, a patient with syncope from conversion disorder whose labs, tests, vital signs, and clinical status are completely normal will actually NOT respond to painful stimuli (sternal rub, nail bed pressure, supraorbital pressure) during an episode.  It is important to remember the unintentional nature of conversion disorder when discussing the condition with a patient.  To them it is REAL, even if to you it seems fake.

Studying for the Psychiatry Rotation?  Check out First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship

2. Factitious Disorder (a Somatoform Disorder): is a condition where patients intentionally fake disease, or intentionally cause disease in order to play the ‘patient role’.  The main distinction between this and conversion disorder is the intentional nature of factitious disorder. Often referred to a Munchausen Syndrome, factitious disorder is characterized by patients frequently feigning illness to obtain attention, sympathy, or other emotional feedback.  They achieve this goal through exaggerating symptoms, deliberately faking symptoms, or even intentionally creating real symptoms.  Patients have been known to contaminate their own body fluids, even injecting themselves with dirt, bacteria, or fecal matter in order to create illness that will then lead to primary emotional gain. A related disorder is known as Munchausen by Proxy, which is characterized by a person intentionally faking or causing illness in another (usually a child) in order to obtain the same emotional feedback.  Victims of Munchausen by Proxy are often children who return to the hospital time and time again with infections or other ‘ailments’ that are either fabricated or intentionally created by their caregiver.

3. Malingering: is the intentional faking or creating of illness in order to obtain secondary gain (e.g. workers compensation, disability payments, avoiding work or jail time, pain medication, etc.) Malingering is NOT a psychiatric illness; this is the first major distinction from the other two disorders. Malingering is an intentional abuse of the medical system to obtain personal benefit.  The difference between malingering and factitious disorder is the goal of the patient; malingerers abuse the system to obtain secondary gain while patients with factitious disorder attempt only to obtain emotional, or primary gain.  In simpler terms, the end goal of a malingerer usually involves monetary value, while the goals of patients with factitious disorder have no such value.


  • Conversion Disorder: Unintentional, due to emotional stressors, no ‘gain’ to the patient
  • Factitious Disorder (Munchausen): Intentional, primary or ’emotional’ gain
  • Malingering: Intentional, secondary and often monetary gain