Studying for Surgery Shelf Exams

By Ravish Amin

Surgical education today includes a combination of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and procedures that are increasingly taught to students using integrative technology.

I recommend using USMLE-Rx FlashFacts and QMax to help you study all medical subjects, including surgery. In addition to these resources, read, highlight, and paraphrase (develop flashcards) board review books (Surgery Recall, CURRENT Diagnosis and Treatment Surgery, or FIRST AID for Surgery Clerkship) and class notes for high-yield topics such as approaching the surgical patient, preoperative and postoperative care, fluid and electrolyte management, basics of anesthesia, and systematic review of surgery by organs. I used the study techniques below.   You may find them effective, too.

  1. 1.   Flashcards + Question and Answer – Surgical Recall + QMax provides a unique solution for practicing plenty of Q&A before the shelf exam and helps organize study your method.
  2. 2.   Frequent Lab Sessions and WebAtlas App – Before attending lab sessions, study anatomy from Grey’s Atlas of Anatomy or get the app if possible to review on your computer.  While attending lab sessions, write down or draw organs, nerves, muscles, and veins, and quiz yourself or quiz with a friend. Spend extra time reviewing anatomy integrated with physiology and pathology to help you memorize and understand difficult concepts.
    1. a.   Online Resources:

                                                 i.    High Yield Surgery – Shelf Exam Review:

  1. 3.   Sample study method: Develop a checklist of items that require identification, identify structures/organs during lab sessions, and link structures to function and dysfunction to diseases. Create flashcards for difficult concepts. Use an app (eg: Current Diagnosis and Treatment Surgery) and practice Q&A frequently. Questions are rarely based on anatomy locations (except during practical lab sessions) so develop a two- or three-step reasoning that identifies a pathological condition linked to an anatomical structure and review surgical techniques/procedures.
  2. 4.   Review radiology – Exams often include a radiology portion that requires students to identify anatomical structures from x-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds. I frequently reviewed images from or, and I found this bit of extra effort increased my exam scores.


How do YOU study for shelf exams?


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