AMBOSS Insights: Conquer the Medicine Shelf with these tips!

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The 110-question Medicine Shelf is likely the most capacious and comprehensive NBME exam you will encounter during your clerkship. How does one prepare for this noble exam? Look no further! In this post, we will discuss how you can best prepare for the ever-so-daunting Medicine Shelf and provide some tips and tricks to help you succeed. 

Start Studying Early

Start studying as early as possible. This often proves to be more difficult than it sounds, especially since your clinical years fly by at an exhausting rate, with limited time for much else. During this period, it can be extremely difficult to find the time to study, as you are constantly moving between clinical rotations at an exhaustive rate; every 4-8 weeks. Since the Medicine Shelf is so vast, it requires a substantial amount of dedicated study time. Therefore, plan on spending much more time preparing for the Medicine Shelf Exam in comparison to other Shelfs. 

Find Your Equilibrium

Clerkships are a balancing act! Juggling your clinical duties and preparing for exams is one of the greatest challenges you will face during your rotations. Just remember, much of the Medicine Shelf Exam content is formulated around topics covered during your pre-clinical years and on the Step I Exam. However, the basic science questions covered on Step I will now turn clinical. That is why learning from your patients, attending and residents on the wards is key. Remember, clinical evaluations represent a large portion of your final grade and deserve an equal amount of time and effort as you dedicate to preparing for the Medicine Shelf Exam. 

Go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

During your clerkship, it is important to stay engaged in active learning and participate as much as possible. Following only one patient, as the clerkship often requires, will not suffice. Clerkship success comes from volunteering, asking questions, paying attention to details - the working diagnosis (work-up) and management for various patients, even when they aren’t yours. Remember, your job is to show up every single day, even when you may not feel like it, to provide the most compassionate, efficient and evidence-based patient care possible. If your focus remains on patient care, the answers to your Medicine Shelf Exam questions will come naturally, since you’ve been presented with them in your everyday life at the hospital. 

Formulate Excellent Differentials

Throughout your clerkship, be prepared to gather information, synthesize it into differential diagnoses and narrow it down into a work-up. Then you can focus on the treatment, management and prognosis. There is power in perfecting your ability to formulate an excellent differential and then narrowing it down into a working diagnosis. Approaching every Medical Shelf Exam question in the same manner (e.g., from differential to a narrowed down approach) will behoove you when your test day comes around.

Look to the Future

The knowledge obtained during your clinical years will serve you well during your future residency and the additional decades of patient care that follow. The principles tested on the Medicine Shelf Exam represent both the core knowledge necessary for every physician, regardless of specialty, and a large scope of content, spanning across many medical specialty areas. Think of the time spent studying for your Medicine Shelf Exam as an investment that will pay future dividends for your prospective career as a physician. Channel this motivation into your study habits and drive to succeed. By considering the imminent future of patient care and the incalculable importance of performing well on the Medicine Shelf Exam, it may just help put things into perspective and pack that extra punch.

Attack the Medicine Shelf with confidence. Sign up for a free 5-day trial to access over 1000 high-yield Medicine Shelf questions you can expect to see on the exam. Our case-based questions are written by a team of over 50 physicians with USMLE experience.