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The Truth about Medical School Textbooks

I’m going to start a new series of posts called “Top 10” and they will be around various topics/things I wish I had known earlier, or just a random list of top ten things. These are just random thoughts and pearls I wish I could have passed on to my former self. The series will be on a number of topics including studying tips, things to bring on the wards or anything that crosses my mind. Since they are just quick lists, I hope I can post them on a fairly regular basis.

Feel free to comment on anything you think that should have made the list that didn’t or things that you do too. Thanks

Top 10 Tips on Medical School Textbooks

  1. You will have more textbooks than time

    Therefore, don’t go and buy too many textbooks because the truth is, for 99% of medical students/doctors, there is more stuff to learn than you have time for. So don’t go wasting hundreds of dollars on textbooks in your first year of medical school because you will never read them all.

  2. Pick one source and stick with it

    Whether it’s Harrison’s, Toronto Notes, or some other primary resource, find one that works for you and stick with that one. Be thorough with your chosen source. You will have a hard time learning from multiple texts, I remember I made a post about learning from multiple sources, while I still believe that, it’s also important to have one resource you are familiar with. Find a good text for anatomy, pharmacology, basic sciences and clinical management and go through it from beginning to end.

  3. Find Free Textbooks

    Borrow from the library, ask upper years, find an electronic copy. Your school library will have access to tons of textbooks. Access Medicine has all the basic texts, many hospitals have subscriptions to uptodate. Don’t waste your money on stuff you can access for free!

  4. Find what works for you

    I like point form notes like Toronto notes, other people like long paragraphs like Harrison’s (A.K.A The Bible of Medicine). Whatever floats your boat.

  5. Ask what worked for other people

    Ask upper years, they will let you know what’s valuable and what’s not. Then check it out and decide how you will study.

  6. Reread the same text

    Once you finish a topic, if you want to re-learn to topic, use the same book. You’ll be more familiar with the material and it’ll stick better. Just make sure you pick a resource that is appropriate for your level of training. Dubin’s Rapid EKG – good for learning how to read an EKG for the first time. Dubin’s as a resident? Probably not a good idea.

  7. Read Current Literature

    Medicine changes quickly, textbooks written ten years ago are unreliable. The management for some key diseases have changed so much that it’s important you pick the most up to date / evidence based literature to read, or else you’re just learning archaic knowledge.

  8. First Aid for Step 1

    is all you need to pass USMLE Step 1 according to my colleagues. I’ve never taken it, but have used the book and it’s quite useful. Use other review texts/notes as needed.

  9. Read around your cases

    Whether that’s the block you’re on or the patients you see, read to answer your clinical questions. Read with a purpose.

  10. No book can replace real-world experience

    Given the choice of seeing a patient with a certain disease or reading about, always go see the patient. The knowledge will stick better and you will see what “real” medicine is about. There are lots of atypical presentations or complicating factors that texts leave out. Learn from your patients, they are your greatest teachers.

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  1. Michael
    Michael December 22, 2010

    Awesome stuff

    Some of these tips can also be applied to university textbooks too right?

    • medaholic
      medaholic December 23, 2010

      definitely. textbooks are often overpriced and not useful. you ultimately choose what you learn from, so find a good resource and use it lots!

  2. supinator
    supinator December 25, 2010

    One word:


    • medaholic
      medaholic December 26, 2010

      ebooks are pretty good, the problem i find is i never have time to sit at a computer to read them. the most useful resource is the one you have on you, and i find quick reference books great for that.

      if i’m going to be using the computer to look up stuff, it’s probably from emedicine or uptodate.

  3. supinator
    supinator December 26, 2010


    I use ebooks as reference when I am home and really need a good explanation (which is why I dont buy them)

    Uptodate for everything else

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