Books for Clinical Rotations

In Basic Sciences, we learned about what the normal body is and how diseases can make it abnormal. However, in Clinical Sciences, the emphasis is more on diagnosis, treatment, and decision-making, particularly what the next best step in the management of an individual patient is.  Deciding what the “next best step” is for a patient is a challenge and may vary with several unique factors, such as past history, current condition, age, comorbidities, and more. We learn how to work with these challenges during our clinical experience with real doctors and patients. To complement and aid our learning, and to prepare us for our NBME shelf exams and USMLE Step 2 board exams, here are some of the more popular books that clinical students get for rotations:

Step-Up to Medicine

This is one of the most popular resources for studying medicine (and Step 2 ck) among clinical students. As a review book, it sums up the material that you would get from a full textbook, but it also provides more detailed than other review books like First Aid Step 2 ck, so that you aren’t in the dark. For every disease, it provides information on characteristics, epidemiology, etiology, diagnosis, and management. They also give “quick hits” on high-yield factoids and mnemonics. Step-Up to Medicine is available on the Kindle store (which you can also read on an iPad or iPhone), if you are an ebook type of person.

Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s, Sixth Edition

This is a must-have. In most of your rotations, perhaps with the exception of Psych, you will be reading EKGs, and this guidebook written by Dale Dubin is THE classic resource in the teaching of EKGs. The book is easy to read (almost as easy as reading a comic book!), and utilizes really helpful colored diagrams and “interactive” text to help you understand (rather than memorize) the principles of interpreting EKGs. I highly recommend this book to everyone, and it will really help your rotations. As far as I know, there is no ebook version of this book, so as of now, paperback will have to do.

Pocket Medicine: The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Internal Medicine or Oxford American Handbook of Clinical Medicine

During your rotations, it is always handy to have a medical guide with you in case you need to look up information about a disease or its management. Most clinical students here use either the Mass General Pocket Medicine, or the Oxford American Handbook of Clinical Medicine. Different people prefer different handbooks. However, from my experience, if you like colorful pictures and diagrams, the Oxford handbook is for you. The Mass General handbook is a little difficult to read at first in my opinion and takes a while to get used to navigating, but once you get used to it, it is really helpful. For a book its size, the Mass General handbook is overly expensive at $55 new, while the Oxford generally goes for around $40. However, if you have a smart phone, the free Medscape app will also work just as well as any other medical guide in my opinion. Check out my post on iPhone apps for clinical rotations for more details.

Tarascon Pocket Pharmacopoeia

In every rotation and for the rest of your career, you will need a drug reference guide to look up information about drugs. If you don’t have a smart phone or prefer printed handbook guides for drugs, this nifty drug reference manual is for you, and lots of students use it. However, if you do have a smart phone, I personally would recommend simply downloading the Epocrates app for free and get all possible information you will ever need on dosing, contraindications, mechanisms of action, adverse effects, trade names, and more. Check out my post on iPhone apps for clinical rotations for more details.

Maxwell Quick Medical Reference

This is a tiny little spiral-bound reference booklet that a lot of residents and students carry around, and it fits right in your white coat pocket. It provides the most common information you will be using referencing everyday on the wards, like lab values, ECG guides, formulas, and exams like the mini mental status exam for psych. It’s small, handy, and great to have.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CS

This is probably the most popular book among students to use for studying for the Clinical Skills portion of the USMLE Step 2. It provides the most common cases you will see on the exam, gives you questions to ask and answers you will most likely be given, as well as differential diagnoses for symptoms. The cases in the book are great for both self study and practice with a partner. However, make sure you get plenty of practice in real life during your clinical rotations as well. An ebook version of this book does exist out there, however make sure it is the newest version as the test formatting has changed recently.

USMLE World QBank for Step 2 CK

This is not a book, but I’m including it anyway because it’s useful. Like for Step 1, USMLE World QBank offers practice questions that are very helpful for not only Step 2 but also for your clinical rotations, particularly the NBME shelf exams required to pass each rotation. I recommend subscribing as soon as you start rotations to get the practice you need. If you have an iPad or iPhone, USMLE World also has an app where you can do questions if you have a subscription.

Other resources to consider:

  • Surgical Recall — I used this book during my surgery rotation and felt it gave me a good foundation of knowledge for surgery. It’s especially useful because of its question-and-answer format, and will prepare you well to answer the most common questions you will be “pimped” on by your surgery attending. This book probably goes into more detail than you need for the NBME surgery shelf exam, but it is a good book to learn about surgery.
  • Quick Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-IV-TR — This may be handy to carry around in case you need to look up diagnostic criteria during your psych rotation. However, I felt that AUC taught us well enough in Behavioral Science that you probably would already know most of the stuff on there. I had one when I first started psych, but stopped carrying it because I never really had to use it.
  • Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology — This is the authoritative review book for Ob/Gyn and explains things very well in prose. It gives really nice diagrams and drawings that explains procedures and concepts well. It’s definitely helpful for the NBME Ob/Gyn shelf exam.
  • USMLE Step 2 Secrets — This concise book is in question-and-answer format and tells you the most commonly asked concepts on the Step 2. It is a popular book among students, and really easy to read, but it does not cover many topics in detail in my opinion.
  • Boards and Wards — This book is divided into all the different rotations that you will be doing during clinicals, and provides the most essential information on what to expect and what you’ll see before you go into each rotation. I personally did not use this book, but know others who did.
  • Kaplan or Doctors In Training (DIT) Videos for USMLE Step 2.
  • Case Files Series — Many people really like the series because it provides case-based teaching.
  • And of course, there are e-book versions of all the First Aid and PreTest books. I used First Aid Psych to study for the Psych shelf, and I found pretty much everything on that exam was covered in the book.