The Communal Document: Creative Group USMLE Studying in Medical School

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • You know those days when 7 PM rolls around and you think, “Crap, I haven’t spoken to a real live person today.” Days like these are not uncommon during your intensive study periods for Step 1 and 2. While we advocate for some degree of lockdown while studying, total isolation is neither healthy for the body nor soul. In previous posts, we discussed the concept of parallel studying for the purposes of camaraderie, commiseration, and furthering one another’s knowledge.

    In this post, we’ll show you how to construct a communal document  a USMLE bible, if you will  to help share your pearls of wisdom with classmates and learn from their experiences as well.

    Before we move on, let’s discuss the purpose of this document. It will serve as a completely auxiliary study aid. It will be fun. It will be chock full of high-yield, bullet-point style information (see below for plenty of examples). After a day of intense UWorlding and First Aiding, it will allow you to step outside the traditional realm of book studying and give you a creative way to share something you learned. Once a day, take a look at the document and see what others have posted as well.

    Things that are appropriate to share in a communal study document include:

    – that brilliant mnemonic you coined

    – a simple way to look at a complex pathophysiology

    – a drug whose mechanism you finally wrapped your head around

    – a UWorld question or First Aid chart you found particularly scintillating/helpful

    – general study advice and guidance for the others.  

    Give the document a fun or interesting name that will make you to smile after a long day of painful bookwork we chose StepCrushin’ for ours.

    Here are some excerpts of brilliance (and idiocy) from a communal USMLE study document that helped me and my study partners excel during test time:

    “Stains! If a GI bug has a positive PAS stain, should be Tropheryma whipplei (Whipple’s disease).  PASs the WHIP cream. Histology shows foamy macrophages.  Foam ~ whip cream.”

    “A subendocardial MI has ST-depression (SUB = down), while a STEMI is usually transmural.”

    “Dropping etymology bombs  Placenta Previa. Previa comes from two words pre (before), and via (the way).  Placenta in the way, before [the baby].”

    “Isoproterenol = Isolated βeta agonist…More like… Iso β roterenol'”

    “EBV travels the world messing people up. Mono in the US, Burkitt’s Lymphoma in Africa, nasopharyngeal cancer in Japan.”

    “Raynaud’s Treatment = Ca channel blockers: -dipine’s. Like dippine your fingers in warm water.”

    “Prostoglandin drugs:

    Misoprostil  = Helps stomach (NSAID induced ulcers), like Miso soup.

    Epoprostenol – EPO [erythropoietin]  helps you oxygenate, just like this drug (used in pulmonary HTN).”

    And, perhaps most importantly, this eye-opening statement:

    “READ THE QUESTION. I can’t tell you how many times I have mindlessly scanned’ through a question, looking for buzz words, and then missed a vital, telltale sign mentioned in the first sentence that hammers down the answer.  READ THE QUESTION.”

    Of course, putting this document together isn’t going to take you from a 209 to a 250 (that’s where hard work and studying comes in). What it will do is give you an outlet for communication, with the added value of learning some more material. And remember, your medical knowledge will be necessary for your career in addition to these tests! You’ll be surprised by how often your combined Step 1 & 2 knowledge base will get called upon as you work through the rest of medical school and residency.

    So let this silly document be a light and useful adjunct to the labors of your studying. Let it serve as a platform to share ideas and all get smarter together. When it comes down to the final few days before your test, reviewing the information in this document can help some of those obscure factoids jump into your mind again. Feel free to comment on and ask questions about each other’s data, too. Happy sharing!