Studying Abroad for Medical School

Monday, August 24, 2020


Depending on where you go to for medical school, if you plan on returning back to either Canada or the USA, there are some strategies that will help you manage your time better and help you start preparing for your return. I realized that a lot of the American students at the university were well prepared right from their first year. They knew what books to use, what programs would be helpful in studying and preparing for the USMLE, and how to balance their time between studying for local exams while also continuing their preparations for the USMLE board exams. 

    I realize I went into studying abroad without putting much thought into it or preparing myself for what I may need to return back. I was quite lost for a long time and did not know how to ask for help either. Also, at the start of medical school, I was pretty certain I would be returning back to Canada until my husband walked into my life and changed everything. So if you are considering studying abroad and returning to the USA, here are a few ways to be extra ready for the journey ahead of you. It's always a good idea to talk to some of the senior students in your program and acquire some tips and tricks for how to do well at that particular school because each school will present with its own unique challenges and methods. 

    Buy the First Aid USMLE Step 1 book at the beginning of your school year. You do not need the most recent edition because you are using this book to outline the important topics in the subjects that you will be learning in school. The First Aid book is also a great resource if you use it to pre-read the topic you will be discussing in your next class. Having read the First Aid ahead of time will help you navigate the new information and help you build on what you learned instead of hearing everything for the first time. Buying an older book means you can scribble and annotate extra information on the pages to customize it to your needs. Reference books are a great resource but they are dense, wordy, and filled with more material than you can memorize so those books should be used as supplements to add to your outlines and notes. By having the First Aid with you in the first year, you will have read through the entire book at least once before initiating focused studying for the USMLE Step 1. Once you do start your USMLE Step 1 prep, buy the most recent edition of the book to be up to date on the knowledge that you will absolutely need to know for the exam. 

    The next set of books that will be useful for your courses as well would be the Lippincott Board Review Series (BRS) books. They are condensed books on all the different subjects that will be covered in basic sciences Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Histology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and more with more detail than the First Aid. These books are great tools to use for medical school exam reviews as well as for carrying to classes and studying. I recommend reading through these books while studying that specific subject as a way to really cement the knowledge in your head while it is still fresh. These books contain practice questions at the end of each chapter to review the knowledge and are a great way to test your understanding of a specific subject. My school implemented NBME subject exams which are created by the same board that creates the UMSLE exams as final exams for each course so using the BRS books really helped prepare for those exams as well. I used these books for all of my basic science courses to learn the material and form a foundation to build on. 

    The Lippincott Illustrated review series books were really good resources for biochemistry and pharmacology. The diagrams and wording of the book provided a better visual learning experience and broke down the topics in an easy to digest manner. These subjects require a lot of repetitive learning having a book that is easy to read definitely helps. 

    Pathology will encompass a big chunk of your second year or even be integrated into your first year depending on the teaching method of the medical school. For this tough and extensive subject, the Pathoma videos and accompanying book were really helpful. The book condenses the important must-know points of each topic and the videos are helpful if you are a visual and auditory learner. 

    Our school provided us with the Kaplan Review course in the second year to everyone as a review course because we were required to pass the Comprehensive Basic (CBS) Exam created by the NBME board in order to qualify for the third year. The books that are provided as part of this course can also be a great review book in the first year so if you can find students who are selling the books after their exams, you should try to get your hands on them. The books are provided with the course at no extra cost so you will have them either way if you buy the Kaplan course or are provided it through your school. These books have more information and detail in them than you may need for the exams but do help review all the material you have learned thoroughly. 

    Finally, there are some great video lectures that you can also use to supplement your studying. The Kaplan videos are very detailed lectures that take you through all the relevant material of the basic sciences. They are a great way to review the material before a final exam for any of the subjects or to use it as part of your focused Step 1 review. I found these lectures quite handy when studying for the NBME subject exams. 

    Depending on your learning style, if you are a visual associative learner there is a great video set for microbiology and pathology called the Sketchy Medical Micro and Pathology videos. They are a unique way of learning in which they draw a picture and associate characters or items drawn to specific characteristics of a virus or bacteria to help you cement the information based on the picture. It is worth looking into and a great way to review the dense information in microbiology which may not have great associations you can attach to. Microbiology is a course that requires a lot of memorization in which the names of the critters do not always help associate the properties that go with them or the medications applied either. 

    These are some suggestions that are worth looking into but the main take away for you is that start your board exam preparation in the first year by making some time in your week to add in some review of topics you have learned already. This can also be achieved with a premade or personally made Anki deck using the Anki app on your phone. Repetition is the name of the game. 

    Finally, if you really want to start getting an idea of what the Step 1 exam will throw at you in terms of question style, the best way to practice questions is UWorld. These questions here are pretty close to what you will find on the actual exam. 

    I have provided the links within the post to the books and videos mentioned so that you can take a look and see what you feel you might need. Happy studying and good luck!

Until Next Time,

Photo by Nhia Moua on Unsplash

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