Desiree is a third-year medical student currently on rotations.


Don’t panic.  Read that again.  And again.  One more time. Got it?  Excellent.
I promise you, if you do well in medical school you will do well on the Boards.  You don’t need to be a straight A student, but doing well will help you immensely with this 2nd year battle.  It is here that my quote from The Art of War really speaks true.  Know yourself, know this enemy, and you will succeed.

Less is more: I’m not here to review positively or negatively about any resource, you must know what works for you. No one should have a million and one sources and work though bits of it without connecting anything.  I used only 2, but I used them fully.  Having every DVD and book on the market will not help you, it will hurt your progress and not to mention your wallet.  Stick with resources you are most comfortable with, and use them over and over.  Only use another source if one is lacking in a particular area and you wish to strengthen your knowledge in that area. Otherwise, stick with what you feel solid with.  Just because others around you may be using different sources does not mean you have too.

Start early:  I’m going to repeat this for emphasis, start early and with a PLAN.  Make an Excel spread sheet or desk calendar of the month and plan out how much you want to cover or what goals you want to reach.  Always make time for questions, which I will get to in a moment.  I know too many who did not start studying for Boards until after winter break, do not fall for this trap.  Start studying early, as in the beginning of your 2nd year.  Start light, and increase your workload as the months go along.  Starting early not only saves you headaches as the time gets closer, but also does not create forceful cramming or a drop in your academic grades.  Do not sacrifice Board time for grades, I repeat, do not.  A dip or a fail in 2nd year will be noticed on your record, don’t let it happen to you.  Start light at the beginning of the year, increasing your workload each month and by winter, you will have a steady rhythm down and much material already covered that those who are just studying have not seen yet. You are at the advantage here by doing this.

Practice….a LOT: Questions, do PLENTY of them. Review why you got the answer right and why the other choices are wrong. If you are not comfortable doing a timed session from the start, that’s alright.  However, as Boards come closer, practice timing yourself on each question block, and do multiple blocks back to back to almost mimic the real thing. Practice doing this early, and when your exam comes along, you will not feel pressured with the clock ticking.  It will feel like another question set to you.

Practice More:  The USMLE and COMLEX offer practice exams, and yes they must be purchased but they are a blessing in disguise.  Do these, I cannot emphasize this enough. Take a look at the score report at the end and see where you are weak and strong.  Ask yourself how you felt with the material, is it what you expected?  Is the score within your goal, higher, or lower?  The best prep is not only seeing the questions, but practicing on the real thing.  Break your nerves for the exam by doing this, after all you can only go up from where you are by preparing ahead of time. Then go in there and kill it, afterwards be prepared for the fun part….


Here are just a few tips for the years once the Boards are beneath you.  Since each school is different in how they handle rotations, and each person will have a different experience in each rotation, I will not talk about each specialty.  The tips here are broad, but I believe are critical for success no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Be, and stay humble:  Remember you are a student, your Attending is your superior.  Take credit for what you do well, learn from what you do not or what you are critiqued on.  Don’t walk the floors with a “holier then thou” attitude, that will never help you.  There is a line between confidence and ignorance, it is easily detected.

Ask questions, please ask questions:  You are there to learn, Attendings know that.  It can feel intimidating asking a question to someone, especially if you are the shy type. If you are wondering how to ask, say, “Can I ask you a question?” I have always received a “yes”, and this opens a door for a conversation to learn from.  If there is a procedure the Attending is about to do, ask “how can I help?” After the procedure, ask your questions about it, as asking questions during a procedure may not give you the best response when the Attending needs to focus.

Arrive early, stay late:  Never. Be. Late. Obviously, things happen (emergencies, transport issues, ect).  If a legit emergency happens, please call the office and let someone know.  For some rotations, being late is severely frowned upon, and for all rotations, it is extremely unprofessional.  Please be punctual, arrive early to settle into the day’s workload and get an idea of what’s to come for the day.

Eat and Drink:  Please.  Your white coat has pockets for more then medical things.  Have some sort of food on you, be it crackers for example, to quickly snack on when you’re busy.  Sometimes the cafeteria is not open, the vending machine is broken, or you can’t drive out for a meal.  Don’t starve or dehydrate yourself, nor should you live off junk food. Keep yourself cared for, especially if you take medications or have a medical condition requiring you to stay hydrated or fed.

Give Your Best:  So, you’re on a rotation in a specialty you loathe.  It doesn’t matter, treat it like the specialty you love.  There is cross-talk between Attendings and others in the field, don’t come into a Rotation you’re not fond of with an attitude or careless mindset.  On the contrary, if you give your best, that Attending may speak highly of you to the Attending in the specialty you love.  People know each other, never speak poorly about a Rotation, Attending, or experience you have.  Don’t bash it on social media either, as this could be a medical student’s downfall. Give your full efforts all day every day, and it will pay off well in the end.

A Word About Social Media: It’s perfectly ok to have a Facebook, Twitter or what have you.  Keep all pictures clean, don’t fill your profile with profanity, and never slander anyone in posts.  I am aware of freedom of speech, but this does not over ride professionalism. Think of it this way, if your mother would be ashamed by what you post on the profile, so too would an official who may be in charge of your Residency.
And, that’s all folks!  Please, enjoy medical school and all its gifts.  It really is a wonderful ride, a choose your own adventure that will turn you into a physician.  It is worth it when you make your first diagnosis, give your first treatment, and approach a patient’s problem with the ability to solve it. Each day being able to save and change lives has made the constant hours of studying worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and if you are given this opportunity, neither should you.

Desiree Hykes is a 3rd year medical student currently on Rotations.  She is an experienced tutor in subjects like Anatomy, Pathology, and the Boards.  She also was a Student Ambassador for her medical school and is a current Student Ambassador for Figure 1, a medical and educational website. During Rotations she works in the Emergency Room once a week for additional training.  She is pursuing a Trauma Surgery specialty, and in her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and sewing.