Basic Science Resources: Physiology

By Haley Masterson

The best resources for physiology will largely depend both on your background and how your school approaches the subject (i.e. systems-based vs. subject-based). Here are a few to consider.

Guyton & Hall’s Physiology:  This textbook is such a legend in medical circles that, much like Netter’s atlas, it’s been updated long after the original author passed away.   It’s right up there with Robbins when it comes to insanely readable texts.  Unlike books that simply state facts, Guyton explains physiology to you in such a way that you’ll actually learn it.

The primary downside is in the length.  Unless you ask a copy shop to remove the binding so you can refer to pages only as needed (a tactic many students recommend when it comes to even reasonably sized books, such as First Aid itself) – a year with this text will end in chronic back pain.

I’d recommend this book for graduate-level Physiology courses and subject-based medical schools.  Guyton integrates all of the physiology in a way that’ll really help learning Physiology as a course, and it’s a great resource as long as you’re not distracted by concurrently studying path, pharm, and embryology.

Costanzo’s Physiology:  This is the realist’s answer to Guyton & Hall.  It has color diagrams, easy-to-read texts, and – unlike the aforementioned tome – will actually leave room for other books to cram into your backpack.  (It’s fairly slim, as textbooks go).  I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t had a substantive physiology course before medical school.

BRS Physiology:  Linda Costanzo wrote this book as well, so you can trust that  it’s relatively easy to read.  But unlike the true Costanzo’s Physiology, it doesn’t have diagrams, and the text is in a sparse outline format instead of prose. 

Still, if you’ve already taken physiology and are just looking for a basic review, you can’t do much better.  The practice questions at the end of each chapter really make up for what this book lacks in readability.

Deja Review Physiology:  This is one of the best Deja Review books in the series.  As an M3, whenever I need to brush up on physiology (read: whenever I’ve somehow managed to forget critical facts like “what is aldosterone”), I reach for this book.  It’s incredibly thin, it fits in your white-coat pocket, and it manages to cover all the important parts of physiology in a quick Q&A format. 

That said, it’s a little less useful during the pre-clinical period.  If you think it might help for 3rd year though, I’d recommend buying it and getting your money’s worth by using it to quiz yourself on each organ system before the relevant test.

PreTest: Pathophysiology:  Again, if you have a basic grounding in physiology – or if your school is sytems-based, as opposed to subject-based – this book will likely be worth the money.  It only contains practice questions, but unlike other PreTest books, they’re fairly standard questions that you can actually expect to see on a test (as opposed to some of the “way out there” examples of pedantry you’ll find in the clinical PreTests.) 

Unlike many other subjects, learning physiology is more about understanding the material than memorizing it.  Therefore, it’s nice to actually have a text that will explain things to you. 

Spending money on question sources may or may not be worth it, depending on the format your school uses for tests.  For example, if your school bills its tests as being “USMLE-style” or “focused on clinical applications”, PreTest and BRS will likely be reasonable sources to use.

Either way, I strongly recommend talking to your upperclassmen, as only they know what works best with your school’s curriculum. 

Good luck!

Got any basic science resources you find helpful? Share them below!



2 thoughts on “Basic Science Resources: Physiology”

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