Rounds to Residency

Mastering your Shelves, Boards, and Dermatology Clerkships w Cory Pettit MD

Dr. Cory Pettit, who scored very well on his USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 exams, shares study tips and resources to excel on exams in medical school.

  • [01:01] Why Dermatology?
  • [02:33] Studying for Shelf Exams During Clerkship
  • [08:54] General Resources & Study Tips for NBME Subject Exams
  • [12:33] Resources & Tips for Internal Medicine Shelf Exam
  • [15:28] Resources & Tips for Surgery Shelf Exam
  • [18:09] Resources & Tips for OB-GYN Shelf Exam
  • [20:59] Resources & Tips for Family Medicine Shelf Exam
  • [24:09] Resources & Tips for Psychiatry Shelf Exam
  • [26:40] Resources & Tips for Neurology Shelf Exam
  • [29:05] Resources & Tips for Pediatrics Shelf Exam
  • [32:01] Tips for Specializing in Dermatology
  • [34:32] The Importance of Internal Medicine Rotations for Dermatology

Today Chase DiMarco talks to Dr. Cory Pettit, a 2nd year dermatology resident at Ohio State University. He is also a USMLE Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 tutor with Med School Coach for almost two years now. With a score of 260 on his Step 1 exam and 270 on his Step 2 exam, Cory shares his own study tips and resources for clerks taking the NBME shelf exams.

Why Dermatology?

Originally from Las Vegas, Cory moved to Ohio for medical school. His interest in dermatology has always been there since his first day in school. Specifically, he likes that the field is self-contained and does not require a multidisciplinary approach. Treatment and surgery are performed by the dermatologist without needing lab tests or imaging.

Shelf Exams Study Tips for Clerks on Rotation

The 3rd year of medical school is a period of adjustment for most students. You will need to manage your time wisely between clinical rotations and studying for exams. Take the opportunity to review when there are lull moments at the ward. To prevent misunderstanding, it’s better to study using a tablet, if you have one. Attendings may get the wrong idea if they see you on your phone.

Although clinical rotations are good learning opportunities, these experiences are not enough to prepare you for shelf exams. You will need to put in extra work to get a comprehensive grasp on the subject matter. Get into the habit of studying a few hours each day. Over time, this practice will steadily build knowledge. On off days, you can allot longer periods for studying. Bear in mind that it might take a few rotations to get used to your schedule as you adjust to clerkship. The most important thing is that you consistently make time to review every day.

General Resources & Study Tips for NBME Subject Exams  

OnlineMedEd is a good resource to start with. Its content focuses on common diagnostic scenarios and day to day information which you can apply during your clinical rounds. However, do not rely on this as your sole learning material. Another great platform is UWorld which has practice questions on all shelf exams. Go through all of the sections because the shelf exams will have questions that are similar to the ones from UWorld.

Take caution not to go overboard with the number of references. Pick a few high yield resources and focus on them.

It’s better to have a more in-depth understanding of a couple of resources than general knowledge from a ton of sources.

References for Internal Medicine Shelf Exam

Internal Medicine is one of the rotations where students can really learn from. There is a chance to encounter complex cases and exam related material. Soak up as much as you can during your experience. For review sessions, Cory recommends going through the internal medicine section at UWorld. There are over 1,150 questions; create a study plan so you can finish all of it. Answering the UWorld questions should be your priority. If you have more time, you may also read Step-up to Medicine.

References for Surgery Shelf Exam

Compared to internal medicine, UWorld has fewer questions for surgery. Most of the UWorld surgery questions tackle surgical management, which is only half of what you need to know. The other half of the surgery shelf exam is about medicine and how to care for surgical patients. As such, you should also go through the medicine UWorld blocks, namely the gastrointestinal and renal sections. Recommended books would be Dr. Pestana’s Surgery Notes, NMS Surgery Casebook, and Surgery: A Case Based Clinical Review.

References for OB-GYN Shelf Exam

Step 1 knowledge won’t be particularly useful for the OB-GYN shelf exam. On a positive note, the shelf exam coverage isn’t as extensive. It will mostly test your knowledge on some diseases, pregnancy, and delivery. Use Blueprints Obstetrics and Gynecology as your primary resource.  OB-GYN rotations can be busy, make sure to allocate enough time to finish the book. With a good understanding of Blueprints, you’ll do well on the exam. To supplement your learning, access questions from UWorld or uWise. Another tip: the OB-GYN shelf exam may ask you to identify images of sexually transmitted infections and how to treat them.

References for Family Medicine Shelf Exam

It would be beneficial to take your family medicine rotation much later in the year. Gaining clinical experience in other fields beforehand will give you the knowledge base you need for family medicine since it’s related to a number of specializations.

There is now a dedicated section for family medicine on UWorld, be sure to check that out. Memorize the US preventative taskforce A and B recommendations for screening and the AAFP guidelines. Pay extra attention to the dermatology and ambulatory chapters of Step-up to Medicine. Familiarize yourself with images of common rashes and know how to differentiate between them.

References for Psychiatry Shelf Exam

 The coverage for the psychiatry shelf exam is not as broad as the other subjects. It correlates well with the Step 1 material that you already know. First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship should be your main resource. It’s not too dense and the format makes it easy to read while providing you relevant information. You may also visit UWorld to answer questions for psych. For additional review, you may use Lange Q&A Psychiatry.

What the psychiatry shelf exam lacks in breadth, it makes up for in depth. It’s important that you know the specific criteria of each diagnosis and length of each disease. Know your pharmacology: what medication should be prescribed and its corresponding side effects.

References for Neurology Shelf Exam

Studying for the neurology shelf exam may be easier if you’ve already taken your psychiatry rotation. The exam will ask you to differentiate between neurological disorders from psychiatric disorders. Another big portion of the exam will test you on your ability to localize lesions. Read up on the Wallenberg syndrome as well since this often comes up. Be well versed in symptoms and the specific areas responsible for bodily functions.

To prepare for your neurology shelf exam, UWorld can help due to its extensive questions in neurology. Blueprints Neurology is also a useful resource.

References for Pediatrics Shelf Exam

What makes the pediatrics shelf exam challenging is its focus on unusual genetic syndromes like the VATR syndrome or congenital heart defects. You’ll have to know rare disorders that you are unlikely to encounter. The exam will also have a few questions on developmental milestones, but there’s no need to spend too much time reviewing this topic. Instead, make sure to memorize the immunization schedule. Here’s a two-part video that uses mnemonics for better retention: part 1, part 2. Other valuable references for the pediatrics shelf exam include UWorld and NMS Pediatrics.

Tips for Specializing in Dermatology

Dermatology is a highly competitive field. Cory advises students to get to know their institution’s dermatology department. If your school does not have one, feel free to contact other hospitals and clinics. On top of having good USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 scores, knowing a dermatologist can be favorable during matching.

Do well in all of your rotations, especially internal medicine. Getting good exam scores and high evaluations from rotations show that you have the capacity to learn and that you possess a good work ethic.

Check out Dr. Cory Pettit’s tutor profile on MedSchool Coach. Sign up for a Free Coaching session with Chase DiMarco, sponsored by Prospective Doctor! You can also join the Med Mnemonist Mastermind FB Group today and learn more about study methods, memory techniques, and MORE! Do check out Read This Before Medical School. Like our FreeMedEd Facebook page and find our Medical Micro Course, Blog posts, and Podcasts at! Feel free to email any questions or comments.

Chase DiMarco

Chase DiMarco is an MS, MBA-HA and MD/Ph.D-candidate. He is the founder of MedEd University, a free medical education resource, the host of the Medical Mnemonist & Rounds to Residency podcasts creator of several medical education platforms, and CEO of FindARotation clinical rotations service.

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