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Useful learning resources for pre-clinical years of medical school

Visual, auditory and kinesthetic. These are the basic learning styles most of us are familiar with and by the time you reach medical school, the likelihood is you know which one (or combination) of these suits you best. However, medical school is often a time in which we adapt our learning styles to suit the demands of new, challenging content. You may have formed a method during sixth-form that was effective enough to produce the results that you desired but let’s be honest...medical school is a different kettle of fish. Whether it’s the sheer volume of content or the significant detail in which you’re required to know certain conditions, the medical curriculum can send many who were confident in their revision techniques back to the drawing board. But, there is hope! Fortunately, there are plenty of resources incorporating different learning styles for you to try out and eventually adopt as useful stepping stones in the walk towards being a knowledgeable, competent doctor.

A popular initial choice amongst medical students seeking a deeper explanation of concepts they encounter in lectures is Youtube videos. This is due to the wide variety of content available as well as the fact that videos combine both the visual and auditory learning styles. Additionally, watching videos in the comfort of your own home allows you to be able to control the pace at which you digest the content, eliminating the pressure to scrawl notes at 100mph that you can sometimes feel in the lecture setting.

"-but let’s be honest...medical school is a different kettle of fish."

My personal favourite channels are Osmosis, Armando Hasundugan and AnatomyZone. Osmosis uses playful animated videos to provide comprehensive overviews of different pathologies in a consistent and organised format. In my clinical years of medical school I found this channel to be especially useful for introducing a condition and giving a strong foundation on which to build upon with more detailed resources e.g. textbooks.

For those already familiar with a topic, Armando Hasundugan’s videos provide in-depth explanations of the pathophysiology underpinning different conditions in a unique hand-illustrated style. I particularly benefited from the labelled diagrams he would often draw in his videos, often copying them down for use in my own notes.

Lastly, AnatomyZone boasts a vast library of tutorials on essentially every anatomical element using detailed 3D computer generated models. The tutors utilize helpful labelling, colour coded overlays and animations to aid memorization and note-taking. These are just three of the channels I found to be helpful, however there are many, many more each with their own quirks and sure to look around!

Textbooks have and continue to be the mainstay of the medical school educational process. Whilst the size of Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine can initially be intimidating, textbooks provide an unrivalled balance of detail and comprehensiveness. This allows them to be a frequent, objective point of reference from day 1 until the end of medical school. Textbooks I particularly liked in my pre-clinical years included Tortora’s Principles of Anatomy and Physiology and Grey’s Anatomy for Students. Special mention also goes to the Flesh and Bones series, Essential Clinical Anatomy and the At a Glance series.

Tortora’s Principles of Anatomy and Physiology is a two-part series offering comprehensive introductions to and explanations of the core anatomical and physiological concepts you’ll encounter in medical school. Whilst the text can sometimes seem long-winded, it does well to filter out the relevant content you’re already familiar with from A-Level Biology and Chemistry and utilize it as a basis for the new physiological concepts you’ll encounter. Perhaps it’s best selling point, however, is its ability to provide highly-detailed explanations in a relatively simple and easy-to-understand format. Furthermore the way in which the topics are organised into small sections makes it easy to break studying up into small increments which can be helpful on those long days in the library.

Grey’s Anatomy is likely a textbook you knew of prior to arriving at Medical School and its stardom is for good reason. Grey’s Anatomy for students boasts, in my opinion, the best-looking and most accurate anatomical diagrams, helpfully colour coded and divided for ease of learning. This is a resource that I still, as a Junior Doctor, occasionally reference for a quick refresh of anatomical knowledge. The text itself also does a great job of further breaking down the content depicted in the diagrams without being unnecessarily wordy or convoluted.

Lastly, anyone who knows me knows that there is one resource I swore by in medical school and that was Anki. Anki is not so much of a resource as it is a learning tool. Anki is a flashcard-based application (available on PC/Smartphones) that uses a method called spaced repetition to aid in memorization of facts. Anki has a unique algorithm that calculates specific intervals at which to test you on the flashcards that you have created in order to shift the knowledge from your short-term memory to long-term.

People can find the prospect of creating their own flashcards daunting and arduous however I found that creating my own questions actually helped me to process information better and by turning content from other resources into individual flashcards, I broke large, complex concepts into simple, understandable sub-sections. Furthermore, repetitively testing yourself through Anki enhances memorization also by forcing one to practise active recall; a similar effect to that achieved by doing multiple past papers before an exam. If you are someone who wants to improve their ability to recall facts in any topic, Anki is an invaluable weapon to have in your arsenal.

"Whilst studying may not be the prototypical ‘fun pass time’, finding ways to make it enjoyable can increase the likelihood of you doing it more frequently"

Whilst the step-up in demand from sixth-form to Medical School is great, there are plenty of resources available to make that transition as smooth as possible. Pre-clinical years comprise large amounts of information delivered in multiple different formats (lectures, PBLs, tutorials etc) so try to utilise all the different mediums available to you. Take the time to experiment with the options available and don’t be afraid to search for and try new ways of learning! Also, ask for advice from those in older years as to what resources they benefited from as there may be niches in your university’s curriculum that some resources cater to better than others.

Above all else, try to enjoy it! Little things such as studying in groups or making well-presented, colour coded notes can break up the monotony of a study session and make time pass by quicker. Whilst studying may not be the prototypical ‘fun pass time’, finding ways to make it enjoyable can increase the likelihood of you doing it more frequently - so be creative and embrace the process. Happy studying!


Article written by Dr Stephen Osei-Osafo, junior doctor in the West Midlands

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