Success in Medical School: Book Review

At the time when I read Success in Medical School: Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years, I was already in third year and did not need “insider advice for the preclinical years.” But I am familiar with the books written by Dr. Desai and Dr. Katta. I have previously read Success on the Wards: 250 Rules for Clerkship Success and The Successful Match: 200 Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match and loved them.

So I figured why not give this book a try. Maybe it is truly an excellent book, like the other two books I have read. Who knows? Maybe there are gems I can share with the underclassmen and future medical schools.

Does it live up to my expectations? Should this book be a required reading for the first and second year medical students? Read more to find out.

Contents of the Book

In any book review I do, I like to start out with the table of contents. In this book, you can see the following topics covered regarding doing well in the first two years of medical school:

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 2 – Preclinical Courses

Chapter 3 – USMLE Step 1 Exam

Chapter 4 – COMLEX Step 1 Exam

Chapter 5 – Taking a Patient History

Chapter 6 – Physical Examination

Chapter 7 – Research

Chapter 8 – Extracurricular Activities

Chapter 9 – Community Service

Chapter 10 – Mentoring

Chapter 11 – Well-Being

Chapter 12 – Professionalism

Chapter 13 – First Summer in Medical School

Chapter 14 – International Health

Chapter 15 – Teaching

Chapter 16 – Writing Awards

Chapter 17 – Choosing a Specialty

Just from glancing at the topics covered, it seems like the book will cover all aspects of the first two years of medical school. There are some topics that overlapped with what I have covered on my website. Great minds think alike. But, a lot of the topics are things I have never thought about. Well-being. Professionalism. Writing awards. This could be interesting.

My Thoughts on Success in Medical School: Insider Advice for the Preclinical Years

The book started out with a bang and was very pertinent to the concerns of most medical students. Almost every medical student would like to know how to do well in preclinical classes and how to do well on the board exams (USMLE and COMLEX). But after the first four chapters, impact of the book started to wane.

The “meat and potatoes” of the book consists of chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, and 17. Medical students are interested in getting high grades in classes and on exams. And for the forward-thinking students, how to get exposure to different specialties as a first or second year medical student.

Some students may find the information on research, extracurricular activities, community service, or whatever that can pad the curriculum vitae to be useful. (Although I am sure most students ask faculty or upperclassmen for guidance on how to find out what options are available.)

Then there are some chapters that seem to be “fillers,” only there to make the book as big at the previous books. I very much doubt students buy this book to learn about well-being, professionalism, and writing awards.

The chapters about taking a patient’s history and doing physical exams seem to be a bit out of place. Sure, you can tell preclinical students that histories and physicals are important and that they should start developing their skills as soon as possible. But these are not their main concerns. Their main concerns are to pass classes and exams. These two chapters would be a better fit in Success on the Wards: 250 Rules for Clerkship Success, a book for third and fourth year medical students. In the third and fourth year, students get access to patients to practice history taking and giving physical exams.

I feel like this book does not exactly capture all there is to be successful in the preclinical years. What Success in Medical School should have done is to focus more on preclinical classes (like what I did in the how to survive medical school section) since they makes up the bulk of first and second year.

I would have liked answers to the following questions:

  • What are the preclinical classes?
  • How can you do well in a particular course?
  • Which course requires more memorization?
  • Which requires more reasoning?
  • What did Dr. Desai and Dr. Katta do to get through their first and second year?

These questions were on my mind in my first two years of medical school. I do not need generalized tips telling me to actively study instead of passively study. I am sure medical students have heard these general tips all throughout high school and college. I wanted to know tips for doing well for each course. I wanted to know what exact steps people have taken in the past to get scores in the 90th percentile.

With that being said, there were a few gems in the book:

  • Practice Questions to Boost Your USMLE Step 1 Score: 8 Tips (p. 63)
  • USMLE Test Prep Courses: 3 Studies to Review Prior to Enrolling (p. 71)
  • To Take or Not to Take the USMLE: 5 Points to Consider for Osteopathic Students (p. 98)

The last two articles listed were especially helpful because I have not seen the information anywhere before. In fact, if you consider what is said in USMLE Test Prep Courses: 3 Studies to Review Prior to Enrolling, you could potentially save thousands of dollars from just this article. This article alone is worth the price of the book.

(No, I am not going to tell you what it said. Go buy the book if you want to know. I already included the page number.)

Overall, I recommend the book. It is a solid book full of useful information, but it is not as good as Success on the Wards: 250 Rules for Clerkship Success and The Successful Match: 200 Rules to Succeed in the Residency Match.

The book has so much information about everything (except for preclinical courses) that there has to be a part of the book that will satisfy your interests.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for me to review. Do keep in mind that it will not influence my opinion of the book. If the book is good, I will write a good review. If the book is not so great, my review will reflect that.

Soon after I have put up the review, the publisher wanted to give a response as to why the book contains what it contains. This is what he has to say:

Publisher’s Response:

For the new medical student, our chapters on emotional well-being and professionalism may not be as exciting to read as chapters on preclinical courses, USMLE, COMLEX, and choosing a specialty. Many students, when hearing about a curriculum on professionalism, have similar reactions. “I already hold these values. Why should any of this concern me?” The studies that we describe provide a definitive answer to that question. Most students are surprised to learn that the stresses and challenges of medical school can affect attitude, behavior, and conduct. However, this conclusion is clearly supported by a number of studies.

In our emotional well-being chapter, we present important information about stress, depression, and anxiety in medical school. In one study using the Beck Depression Inventory, median scores increased threefold from the time of matriculation to the end of second year, with 25% of the class showing considerable depressive or dysphoric symptoms. Given the scope of these problems, we believed that it was important to present these studies to students and educators so that strategies to promote medical student well-being can be discussed and implemented.

This review is part of The Only Medical School Books You Will Ever Need series. Click on the link if you want to avoid wasting money on useless textbooks.

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