Rock the Shelf: Family Medicine

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • The Family Medicine (FM) shelf exam is a challenge, especially for students who have yet to rotate through IM, OB, or Peds. With most FM rotations limited to four short weeks, the broad scope of exam questions and lack of time make this shelf particularly difficult. 

    But there is good news! Most FM rotations themselves are relatively easy – outpatient clinic from 8-5, Monday-Friday without call, leaving you with free nights and weekends. Furthermore, there are various exam resources available, with an almost overwhelming amount of qbanks and books to help you get your study on. 

    Below, I’ve outlined a tried and true strategy for shelf review as well as a few tips for the rotation. Take a look for yourself and rock the FM shelf! 

    Planning is key

    The first step is to plan a realistic schedule. As the old saying goes, know yourself, and you shall win a hundred battles – are you the type of person who likes to study an hour each day, do it all at the end of the week, or somewhere in between?The key is consistency. My recommended approach is to learn a little each day to grow your knowledge. Just an hour a day – that’s all it takes to succeed on the FM shelf. By keeping to a tailored study plan, you’ll be prepared for your exam and also impress your attending along the way. 

    As far as exam prep, the path to success is following a reference resource to supplement your time in the clinic. That coveted treasure trove of information helps you build a strong foundation of knowledge. Then test and reinforce that knowledge with a question bank or two. Check out the Top Resources that current Cram Fighter users are using for their FM shelf studying here.

    You’ll take the shelf exam on the last Friday after completing four weeks of your family medicine rotation. Ideally, you will have reviewed at least one reference resource and one question bank. By week two of the rotation, you should start going through multiple choice questions, saving the last few days of your rotation for analysis of missed questions.  

    To build a foundation

    You should be familiar with most family medicine topics at this point, especially if you’ve had other rotations. Utilize books or online videos to cement your understanding. These resources often come in the familiar forms – a brief clinical case followed by a handful of multiple choice questions with explanations. Read a case, do the questions; rinse and repeat. This is a proven way to internalize and learn disease processes. The cases provided cover the bread and butter of medicine, from diabetes and hypertension to USPSTF screening guidelines. 

    Ideally, you would be starting on questions by week three of your FM rotation. Do a few learning cases in between patients and a couple at lunch, and you’ll get through this in no time. Committing to a case a day will improve your clinical performance and make studying fly by.  

    If you’re more of an auditory learner, podcasts can keep you up to date on the world of family medicine. They’re a quick and easy way to learn something on your commute to clinic. If you are required to have a formal presentation for your rotation, they may provide key insights on commonly addressed topics.  

    Above all else, ensure that you learn the USPSTF recommendations. Make flashcards, anki decks, write them on post-its for your fridge. Whatever it takes, memorize these, and they will get you easy points on the exam. These guidelines are the absolute authority so master them. Enjoy the free exam points. 

    Q banks to reinforce your foundation of knowledge 

    So, you’ve gotten your feet wet with the learning material; now it’s time to submerge yourself in the ocean of practice questions. For FM, it’s a good idea to bring in additional questions from the internal medicine, pediatrics, and OB/GYN sections.

    Most question banks have user friendly interfaces that allow you to dive straight in, and they’re great for improving your weaknesses. Have a knowledge deficit in Endocrinology? Select that section and practice endo questions, easy! Because the scope of this shelf is so broad, you will receive some esoteric questions on test day. However, the lion’s share of questions will be over core family medicine topics so you’ll need extensive knowledge on those, as well as superficial knowledge across the board.

    The best way to prepare is to review as many family medicine related multiple choice questions as you can, so you’re not caught off guard. 

    Gunning for honors?

    Your grade depends on how heavily your shelf score is weighted compared to your clinical evaluation score. A high shelf score can only help, and you should have no problems honoring the FM shelf (85% and higher), following the steps above. The difference between passing and honoring the exam is directly correlated to the  amount of practice questions you do. Because the topics in FM are so broad, studying may feel frustrating. When that happens, the best thing to do is remember that there is no way to know everything. The next best thing is to repeat questions until you have an expanded wealth of knowledge, so that you can reason through unfamiliar territory. 

    To maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your prep, build a custom study plan for your shelf exams with Cram Fighter. Simply add the resources you want to study and let Cram Fighter know how much time you have, and in just a couple clicks, you have a detailed schedule that tells you exactly what to do each day. Try a FREE, no-strings-attached 7 day trial of Cram Fighter and make your study plan now!

    About the Author

    Mike is a driven tutor and supportive advisor. He received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine and then stayed for residency. He has recently taken a faculty position at Baylor because of his love for teaching. Mike’s philosophy is to elevate his students to their full potential with excellent exam scores, and successful interviews at top-tier programs. He holds the belief that you learn best from those close to you in training. Dr. Ren is passionate about his role as a mentor and has taught for much of his life – as an SAT tutor in high school, then as an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review. At Baylor, he has held review courses for the FM shelf and board exams as Chief Resident.   For years, Dr. Ren has worked closely with the office of student affairs and has experience as an admissions advisor. He has mentored numerous students entering medical and residency and keeps in touch with many of them today as they embark on their road to aspiring physicians. His supportiveness and approachability put his students at ease and provide a safe learning environment where questions and conversation flow. For exam prep, Mike will help you develop critical reasoning skills and as an advisor he will hone your interview skills with insider knowledge to commonly asked admissions questions.