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There are a few fundamental commandments regarding USMLE Step 1: there are no gods but First Aid and UWorld; no single thing is as important for getting an interview as scoring high; work hard as hell and your score will be in the heavens.

But some things are more up in the air and come down to style. Some further resources are necessary for some, but not all students. We all know about the one-two punch of UWorld and First Aid, but does everyone need to use resources on the next tier? Is eschewing the silver medal resources like Pathoma and BRS Physiology a wise winnowing of the endless Step 1 data, or are you deluding yourself and just being lazy by letting them collect dust? There is a fine line between being resourceFUL and resource FULL, and in this post, oh yes, we will walk that line.

Pathoma Review for Step 1 Exam Prep

People always act a bit cagey when it comes to studying for the USMLE Step 1, sometimes keeping study plans to themselves. You might even get judged by peers for using (or not using) a particular resource. In retrospect, it's disheartening that my alma mater didn’t provide particular guidance past “Do great on the test! You need to!” I remember hearing whisperings of Pathoma in lecture hall, and it was only a matter of time until its popularity had spread like wildfire. By the end of MS2 year, the majority of my class was using it. It wasn’t long before you’d hear things like “Na, I’m not going to lecture, just going to watch the Pathoma video instead.”

(For the unintiated — Pathoma is a collection of video lectures and a textbook that covers pathology and pathophysiology from head to toe. Everything from the basic of inflammation to classification of uterine tumors is included therein.)

I’ll say it loud and clear: Pathoma is the best single patho(physio)logy
system out there, except (perhaps) for your own courses.

It is well-organized, informative, and is as digestible as lactose to a baby. Dr. Sattar, the founder and lecturer, is a phenomenal teacher, and has ascended the ranks to the level of USMLE Step 1 legend, immortalized next to Goljan himself.

That said, I cannot make a hard and fast recommendation that everyone needs to use this resource. Those who benefit most from it are students with a weaker pathophysiology background. Maybe your med school path course didn’t click with you. Or maybe you just need an overhaul of your knowledge to make sure you fully understand all of these disease processes; pathophysiology is, after all, what drives Step 1. The students who I have seen benefit most are those with the weakest knowledge of medical disease: dental students matching into OMFS, and medical students who fell to the wayside during their med school pathology course.

If you are totally confident with your skills in this department, can rattle off the glycogen storage diseases like a boss, and aced your medical school path course, then you can probably get by without Pathoma. It should never supplant either First Aid or UWorld, but can serve as a wonderful supplement. If you are a self-described audio-visual learner, Pathoma is an excellent choice.

BRS Physiology Review for Step 1 Exam Prep

My blanket statement on BRS Physiology is this: Buy a copy to be used during your physiology coursework, write your name in big black ink, and keep it forever. It is a beautifully concise reference on exactly what you need to know regarding the functioning of the human body’s systems. The concepts are not going away, and for the most part, are not changing. Even seasoned residents can afford a review of Frank Starling curves and pituitary feedback mechanisms.

If you can master
and truly understand the material in BRS Physiology, you can be confident that your knowledge is where it needs to be. This book will help you with physio exams as a student, and is, in my opinion, the best way to revisit the finer points of physiology when preparing for Step 1. So how to use it for studying? Just prior to the beginning of your dedicated study period, I would recommend a gentle once-over reading of the tome cover to cover. You don’t need to annotate and memorize, but simply re-introduce yourselves to concepts both known and forgotten. Then, use individual sections (systems) as you work on that system during your intensive study period. A final read through closer to the test to make sure you’ve got things figured out, can be your icing on the cake.

Bottom Line: There is not a student out there who would not benefit from a better understanding of physiology, and BRS physiology is simply the best. Use it.

Now, if you employ these two resources on top of First Aid and UWorld, that should be totally sufficient. We would not recommend adding anything else to the mix, other than maybe Goljan lectures on the morning commute or treadmill. But draw the line there. There is a certain danger in getting resource FULL, and becoming overwhelmed at the thousands of pages in front of you that you “need” to know. The last important consideration in using 4 resources is that you should build your study schedule to set aside time for using each of your resources (or let us help you!). This will ensure that you are covering everything necessary, not drowning in one particular book.


Looking for additional Step 1 study resources? Check out our review of USMLE-Rx.
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Dr. Brian Radvansky

Dr. Brian Radvansky

Brian believes that excellence comes from never taking "no" for an answer, and putting as much work into organizing one's studying as into studying itself. After producing an incredibly average MCAT score, he decided he was going to quadruple his efforts in preparing for Step 1. His greatest successes have brought students who were going to drop out of medicine altogether for fear of not matching to matching into their specialties of choice. He reminds students the importance of performing well on a single test, or even learning how to sell themselves can make an extreme difference in their futures. Students can rely on Brian to hold them accountable and make sure that they don't sabotage themselves with excuses. He can help them to totally reevaluate their approach to USMLE questions in a methodical, protocolized way that ultimately leads to more correct answers and a higher score. With his help, you will trim the excesses, and put all of your collective efforts into only the work that will improve your score. Through his residency admissions consulting, Brian has consistently revamped students applications by helping them to highlight their best (and sometimes hidden) characteristics, and get them to match into the programs they had ranked number one. He can help you to master your personal statement, and craft the story as to why your program of choice needs to have you as a resident. Brian will help you find that all too difficult balance of being proud of and selling your accomplishments, without coming forth as someone who is merely checking boxes to bolster their application.
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