Surgery Shelf Exam

What You Need to Know

The NBME® Surgery Shelf is a case-based exam that tests students on their ability to diagnose and manage surgical patients, including determining when surgical management is required. It can cover a broad range of topics, including relevant cases from Ob-Gyn, Medicine, and Pediatrics.

Looking for a new Surgery Shelf resource? Study with AMBOSS.

How to Study for the Surgery Shelf Exam

  • Focus on how to quickly discern whether a patient needs an operation and less on the specific medical care a patient needs.
  • Know basic medical management and how to apply pharmacology knowledge.
  • Understand the presentation, work-up, diagnosis, and management of high-yield surgical topics.
  • Don’t take the basics for granted and always remember your ABC’s: airway, breathing, and circulation.
  • Go with your gut (within reason). You have a limited amount of time for the exam, and you won’t want to waste a second of it overthinking the details.
  • Study in scrubs: use what you learn in the hospital to guide your studying when you get home.
  • Commit the extra time to learn more about disease processes you see (and don’t see).
  • There’s significant overlap between the Internal Medicine and Surgery Shelfs, and taking IM before Surgeryif possiblecould help boost your score.

Taking the Surgery Shelf Exam

Not all students have to take the NBME Surgery Shelf Exam, and it’s not obligatory for obtaining a U.S. doctor’s license. However, most medical schools have a required surgery clerkship, and the most popular way to test students is by using the NBME’s official Clinical Science Surgery Subject Examination. Students should note: the exam can only be taken at authorized testing locations, like Prometric test centers or on campus at select medical schools.

The exam is formatted as an online test consisting of 110 multiple choice questions which must be completed in 165 minutes. Luckily for students, it has the same interface as the USMLE Step exams, with each question set up as a vignette. The exam is graded on a national average, though whether or not you pass your surgery clerkship will depend on your individual medical school’s requirements. More specifically, the number of correct answers you get places you in a percentile, which is then measured across national grades.

The Surgery Shelf will test students on how they determine—based on a diagnosis—whether a patient needs surgery, as well as the medical management of surgical patients.

Many conventional sources tend to offer only a meager amount of practice Qbank surgery questions, however, new digital funds of medical knowledge are now available for students to study with.

Succeed on Your Surgery Rotation with AMBOSS

AMBOSS is an all-in-one resource that serves as both a clinical companion on the wards and a reliable study guide for your NBME® Clinical Surgery Shelf exam. Our medical library features surgery-specific Articles that can be used as a point-of-care reference when you’re with patients or rounding with your team and for in-depth studying with its robust Qbank (even offline—check out our mobile apps for Android and iOS).

Practice for the Surgery Shelf Exam Using the Qbank

  • Review as many questions as you can—you have 1050+ high-yield, NBME-formatted surgery questions to choose from.
  • Learn to identify important information quickly by enabling highlighting or turning on the high-yield mode.
  • Familiarize yourself with typical imaging findings, like X-rays, and practice diagnosing and determining management for different ailments.
  • Get an overview of your progress with a continuous analysis of your session success; you’ll be able to pinpoint—and close—knowledge gaps.
  • Activate exam mode to practice answering question stems in a time-constrained environment.
  • Study on-the-go with the Qbank app for iOS or Android. You can squeeze in practice questions in your downtime between cases, even when you’re offline.

Find a Clinical Companion in the Library

  • Access Articles chock-full of surgery-related terms and topics.
  • Focus on high-yield surgery topics, like Thyroid Nodules.
  • Quickly reference diagnosis and management methods for a variety of diseases, like Gas Gangrene, Oral Cavity Cancer, and Meckel Diverticulum.
  • Review detailed medical illustrations that help outline the main features of various relevant conditions—like Acute Cholangitis.
  • Look up the definitions of surgery-specific vocabulary with a complete Phrasionary.
  • Refer to the Knowledge app for iOS or Android while you’re on the wards.

Use AMBOSS as a Clinical Companion