Medicine Monday: Step 2 Study

studying meme
Source: Pinterest

About this time last year, I was wrapping up my third year rotations and beginning to think about studying for my second Step exam. There are three Step exams that every doctor-in-training in the US takes – creatively titled Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. The first is taken between second and third year. The second, divided into two parts, is taken between the third and fourth year of school. The third is taken after graduation.

The two parts of the Step 2 exam are the Clinical Knowledge (CK) portion, a multiple-choice exam, and the Clinical Skills (CS) portion, a practical-style exam where you are filmed interacting with standardized patients.

Now let me say this first (and I’ve told every third year student who will listen) – I feel like I took the exams wayyyy too far apart! I took CK in early July and then CS in early October. I wish I would have taken CS in August sometime.

The next important thing to know is that Step 2 CK studying is nothing like Step 1 studying. For starters, you’ve been prepping all year by taking shelf exams. You’ve seen patients and scenarios played out in real life, so this makes the exam easier to prepare to take. You’re used to the question format and style. Passing all of the shelf exams sets you up for great success with Step 2 CK. Want further proof it’s more chill? I had an elaborate, color-coded Excel spreadsheet for Step 1 study and a handwritten, partially followed calendar for Step 2 CK.

I was fortunate to end my third year on my psychiatry rotation, which is fairly non-demanding. There are no night shifts and you only work one weekend. This left me time to start my studying during this rotation and then take the exam shortly after the end of the rotation. I was on a “study month” for all of July, so this gave me three bonus weeks of travel (and ain’t nobody mad about that).

Screenshot 2018-04-22 22.11.35

Resources: UWorld was the primary resource. I used it throughout third year and reset it approximately six weeks before my exam. I figured out the reset date by dividing the number of questions by 80 (the amount I would do each day), then counted back from the exam.  My other resources were Master the Boards and USMLE Step 2 Secrets. MTB is just okay, but I had already used it for my internal medicine shelf, so I was familiar with the content and format.  Secrets is GOLD and I highly recommend it. I also took two practice tests from NBME, the people who make the test. They were pretty close to the score I got on the actual exam. Screenshot 2018-04-22 22.11.45

Here’s my schedule! I was still on rotations through June 16, and then we had a three day in-person toxicology course the following week.

As you can see (hopefully; I’m not sure how much sense my calendar makes), I did two sets of forty questions each day from UWorld, spending time going through each one. I did 22 pages (or one to two chapters) from Master the Boards each day.  For Secrets, I started to read some each day, and then decided it was best done closer to the exam. I read it all in the five – six days leading up to my test.

This schedule left me plenty of room to do other things! If there was a day I didn’t get two question sets in, I could do it the next day. I took my birthday off, as well as three days for a bachelorette party. Studying certainly could have been condensed into about two and a half to three weeks if needed.

How about the actual test? Well, I came down with a raging case of strep pharyngitis the day before the exam and still did the expected 15-20 points better than Step 1. Maybe because it was less pressure or I had done it all before, but this felt easier than the first time.

For Step 2 CS, which I had to take in Houston, there was much less structure in regards to studying. I read through First Aid for USMLE Step 2 CS in the two weeks before the exam. I’m pretty sure my class only owned a few copies as a whole, and we kept passing them around until we all took the test. My school also does a mock exam and gives us feedback. We’ve also been talking to patients and creating plans and workup all year long, so this is just a standardized version of that.

My advice for success:

-Take the two exams closer together than I did! I felt like I had to review diagnostics and differential diagnoses more since I waited so long.

-The Secrets book is GOLD. That and UWorld could really be all you need for CK study.

-Take a deep breath – you’ve got this! You’ve been preparing for it all year long. It’s just one more step on the way to being a docta.


What am I up to now?


I’ve been away from this blog for some time now, and was not sure I would ever come back to it. While it’s likely that my mother is the only one who reads this (Hi, Mom!), I wanted to give an update on what life is like for me right now.

Currently in my third year of medical school, I am rotating through what we call clerkships. These are 2 or 6 week rotations in the various major specialties of medicine.  Six week rotations cover the core specialties – OBGYN, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Surgery, and Psychiatry.  Between those, we have three of what we refer to as “2-2-2s,” which are three two-week rotations. One is always family medicine, so you have completed six weeks total by the end of the year. Two are two week vacation blocks, which makes life feel very “real world.”  Two are elective rotations, one is adult general clinic, and the last is a neurology/neurosurgery block.

IMG_6081As I type this, I am on my two week adult general clinic rotation.  Due to growing class sizes, we complete part of these rotations at a hospital about 90 miles from our main training hospital. This week, that’s where I am.  The school has organized apartments for us to stay in while we rotate over here.  They’re very nice – certainly quieter and more updated than my college apartment!

We’re approximately two-thirds through the school year, which went by seemingly fast! There were long days, and even long weeks, but overall time has moved quickly.  I have two six-week rotations left, in Surgery and Psychiatry.  These are probably the two I was least looking forward to, but still hope to learn applicable information, even if only for my board exams.

Those who know me well may be thinking, “What?! Didn’t you just take a board exam??” Yes, in fact, I did. To get a medical license in the US, you have to pass three “steps” of the exam. The fist was taken before I could start third year. The second has two parts, which will be taken later this year. The third I’ll take after graduating.

IMG_5788What am I doing outside of medical school? I have been quilting quite a lot. Experimenting with patterns and colors and designs is a great creative outlet, that also gets me away from a computer screen. Bread making has made a comeback, and is my current favorite form of baking. Running and I are slowly rekindling our relationship, after a rough half marathon a year ago. I do still weight train often, and stay active overall.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my grandmother, going to lunch and bookstores and book sales.  I’m trying to read 40 books a year, which is a little more of a challenge than I expected it to be! (I was a total bookworm as a kid, and still am to this day. But I like to curl up with a book for hours and hours, which isn’t often an option!)  We’ve also become a hockey family, after we signed up to host a player from the local NAHL team.  The games are fast, fierce, and cold, but I’ve come to enjoy the sport, though I don’t fully understand the game. My sister and I have started ice skating, which has been entertaining!

While I’m working and studying, I have more free time than I did during the first two years of school.  Third year has been the best year yet!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


A Monday in the Life of an MS1

MS1 (noun): a student in the first year of medical school, usually equipped with a Macbook, purple scrubs, and a distinct formaldehyde smell.  See also: confused, tired, doe-eyed.


Something I was always curious about before starting med school was what day-to-day life looked like.  While every day is different, this sampling gives an idea of an average Monday.  Tuesday looked different, because we had anatomy lab, and today (Wednesday) I might just go to the public library and podcast all day.

Without further ado, here is Monday, September 15:

6:00am – alarm goes off
6:23 –
 actually get out of bed. Business casual day requires a little more time and effort than other days. Get dressed, breakfast, pack my backpack.
7:13 – leave my house and hope I’ve caught the window between school traffic and work traffic.
7:40 – park in the M (student) lot and catch the shuttle to school. Head up to the 8th floor to put away my backpack and take just my computer down to the testing center on the 3rd floor.
8:00 – Foundation of Clinical Medicine exam
8:20 – finish exam
9:00 – patient presentation on hemachromatosis. Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either. But this will be the disease we discuss in detail in our Thursday morning small groups.
10-12 – Lectures 
12: lunch, outside because I miss the sunshine.
1-2: lecture
2: decide where we want to study
2:30 – study at Barnes and Noble until time to head to flag football.
4:10 – social media break (just being real here!)
4:45 – bathroom break
5:35-  change clothes and head to LSUS
6:00 – flag football game against the PA students (We won in a spectacular comeback.)
7:00 – drive home, dinner, and shower
8:20 – back at my desk for studying
10:20 – decide I’m done for the night. By this point I’ve covered the day’s lectures at least once, but I’m usually done a little earlier in the day.
1045 – bedtime, so I can do it all again the next day.

The only mandatory events were the exam and the patient presentation.  For me, if I have to come to school, I stay for everything. This day was a little longer and a littler busier than average, but I think it gives a good look at what my “every day” looks like, and now I have this to look back on in a few years. And you know what else? I LOVE it here.  More than I ever expected.