Board Study Schedule

January 14, 2018

I've had SO MANY people asking me about my board study schedule, I figured it was time to write it all down in a blog post. Just like everything else - this is what worked for ME. I would never expect it to work for everyone.... so take it all with a grain of salt. Use it as an example.

My best advice:
1. Decide what your plan will be to study for board exams. And stick to it. Don't worry about what other people are doing!
2. Know yourself as a learner. You know yourself best and you need to be honest with yourself about what's going to work well for you.

P.S. You can also check out my post about the resources I used to study for my board exams, my review of DIT, and for entertainment sake, you can find 41 photos of studying for board exams. :)

ALL of my studying was designed around my desire to keep everything important in just one place. My brain needs my study information to be organized, color coded, and easy for me to find. So everything I did was designed around getting information into First Aid. You'll see what I mean...


  • I purchased USMLE RX and used those questions alongside my classroom work during second year. I didn't force myself to do any number of questions - I just worked on them when I had time. I loved that each answer explanation was linked back to a page in First Aid, so I could easily follow along and understand the concepts being tested. 
  • I started using DIT practice questions that were emailed to me three times a week. I liked those practice sets because the questions were free response and really challenged me to come up with answers on my own. All of these answer explanations were also linked to First Aid - so I started going back to that too. 
    • COLOR CODING: I'm super type A and color coding things helped me. I started to use a certain color (lime green- also, that detail is not important) to help me identify the important concepts DIT emphasized with practice questions. 
  • I purchased and started using Cramfighter. It's an amazing tool to help you create a study schedule. It's all online and the program helps you create a personalized study schedule based on the resources you want to use. I loved how easy it was to create a plan for the semester! 
    • I used the scheduling program to help me create a schedule to re-watch all of sketchy micro twice throughout the semester for review. 
  • I continued to use Pathoma & Sketchy Pharm throughout the school year along with my normal coursework. 
  • I created my final study schedule for May/June. I used cramfighter to help me figure out how I wanted to break up my study time. I finalized which resources I wanted to use and once I created my study plan, I stuck with it. Ignore what other people are doing & be confident in your plan! 

  • I bought UWORLD and began using it during psychiatry, my last block of the school year. I used all of my psych questions to study for my normal school exams and considered that block to be my intensive review of pscyh for board exams. 
  • Classes ended the last week of April. 
  • I took a few days off, but then I got right back to studying. Several classmates took more time off than I did, but I wanted to give myself enough time to get through what I had planned. 
  • I used Cramfighter to schedule everything during my board studies!! I cannot recommend it enough. 
    • Things I put onto my cramfighter: 
      • All of Pathoma for the first week of May & some UWORLD questions
      • Last three weeks of May, all of DIT & some UWORLD questions 
      • From the first week of May until my board exams, I rewatched Sketchy Micro again twice in its entirety and Sketchy Pharm once in its entirety.
  • I spent the first week of May re-watching all of Pathoma in its entirety. I rewatched the lectures because I preferred the videos over the textbook. I added any new information Pathoma had on a certain topic into First Aid if it wasn't already in there. 
    • COLOR CODING: I added all Pathoma information in a new color (orange, for no particular reason). 
  • I spent three weeks to finish all of DIT. I did everything DIT asked me to do: the quizzes before and after the lectures, the video lectures, and I added any additional information to First Aid that I needed to remember.
    • COLOR CODING: I used another color (purple) for DIT during board studies. It ofen overlapped with the first time I highlighted information from DIT in my First Aid book with the practice questions from January. This was helpful for me to know which concepts were heavily emphasized in January and then again in my serious board studies. 
  • I did UWORLD questions with any extra time I found throughout the day. 
    • In summary, my normal days in May: sketchy micro & pharm, pathoma or DIT, and UWORLD questions to fill the rest of the day. 
  • I finished UWORLD. People ask me all the time how many times I got through UWORLD and my answer is just once. If you have time to get through it twice or more, hats off to you. But I only got through it once and I did well on my exams. 
    • I also kept a UWORLD journal throughout my board studies. If you google it, you will find all kinds of suggestions and ways to have it help you! 
  • I took 4 practice NBME exams. I would highly recommend these. The exams will tell you which questions you got wrong, so take them with friends so you can compare anwers and learn from your mistakes. Everyone will have different opinions about the exams (don't fall too far down the student doctor rabbit hole), but for me:
    • comprehensive basic science (form 18) was the most difficult. It certainly won't build your self confidence! 
    • comprehensive basic science (form 17) was the most predictive of my actual board score. 
  • I did not take any NBOME practice exams, although I'm sure they would be helpful! 
  • I am happy I had three weeks to really focus on weak areas and use practice questions/exams. 
  • I took my USMLE on June 23 and my COMLEX on June 28. In between the exams, I was happy to have some time to sleep, take time off, and study OPP material for COMLEX. 
    • I used the Savarese OMM review book & read the first 10 or so chapters. I also did two of the practice exams in the back of the book. 
    • I purchased COMBANK and used all the OPP, ethics, and statistic questions in the q bank. Probably not a necessary purchase - but I did very well on COMLEX and I think all the time I spent studying the "extra material" in between USMLE and COMLEX made a big difference. 
Forgive my messy handwriting, but I also wanted to include a few examples of what my annotated First Aid looked like. Annotating First Aid helped keep me awake and physically writing things down helps me remember information. Annotating is not for everyone, but I loved that it helped me keep track of important concepts and it was easy for me to review the high yield information as I was flipping through First Aid. 

Green: practice questions from DIT (January/Feb)
Orange: Pathoma (first week of May)
Purple: DIT during board prep (last three weeks of may)

It was easy for me to see when I looked at the skin layers that this concept was emphasized multiple times by different resources! I also loved being able to add notes from various resources to the same place in First Aid. First Aid was my go to source for ALL of the information from ALL of my sources. 

Red stars: DIT ranks concepts based on "high yield". I always wrote those down in First Aid too in order to help me recognize important concepts at a quick glance
Red box/notes: questions I came across on the NBME practice exams that I wanted to keep track of
Green and purple are still the same as I mentioned in the above photo. 

Brown: where I circled PCT cells - was for anything that I came across in a UWORLD question that I wanted to remember
All other colors are the same as mentioned in the above photo captions. 
Annotating First Aid takes LOTS of time and again - it's not for everyone. But I kept absolutely everything in First Aid. Once I took information from a resource and annotated it in First Aid, I NEVER went back to that other resource again. I kept First Aid as my single collective source for everything - and quite honestly, I loved it. It worked very well for me! 

GOOD LUCK! That's how I got through my board studies and board exams. No matter how you do it, trust your own study plan and stick to it. As always, let me know if you have any questions! :) 

1 year in 366 seconds

October 1, 2017

One whole year of my life with the 1SE app. One whole year in 366 seconds. That's pretty darn cool to me! Documenting my life each day seems kind of ridiculous and silly sometimes, but I'm always so happy I did.

LOOK AT THIS.  My heart.

I made that video during my last two months as a Peace Corps Volunteer - back before I even had this app to make documenting my life super user-friendly.

This is easily my favorite way to document my days! My little modern video diary. It's so much fun to look back on!

Sim*Vivo Suture Review

September 28, 2017

Sim*Vivo had popped up on my Instagram feed for months and I was very interested in getting my own suturing kit for clinical rotations. I reached out to Sim*Vivo and they were kind enough to send me a Sim*Vivo suture kit to try out and review on my blog. 

Disclosure: This product was provided to me as a gift from Sim*Vivo. Opinions are my own.
I've had the kit for several months now and I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the product after four weeks on my surgical rotation. I had so much anxiety about starting my surgery rotation. To alleviate some anxiety, I used my Sim*Vivo kit to practice suturing so I would feel more confident for when the surgeon handed me my first needle driver!

When I first got this suturing kit over the summer, I went to Sim*Vivo's website to find links to tutorial videos. I really loved that Sim*Vivo had tutorials to introduce the instruments along with how to hold them. Learning to handle instruments properly is very important and figuring that part out before having a surgeon watch me suture was very helpful! 

There was step by step instructions on how to do the following techniques: 
  • instrument tie
  • simple interrupted suture
  • running simple suture
  • vertical mattress suture
  • running subcuticular suture 

I enjoyed being able to watch the video and then practice the technique on my own. The suturing board is the perfect size to fit in my lap so I could suture and watch a movie with my husband - or listen to a podcast. It's very convenient to have all the materials I needed to practice at home! 

The kit comes with the following materials: 
  • Suturing board 
  • Adson forceps
  • Hegar needle holder
  • Suture scissors
  • Scalpels - #10 and #15 
  • Suturing guidebook (that follows along with the videos)
  • Suture packs (10 in each pack) 
    • 3-0 nylon with 30 mm needle, 3/8 circle, reverse cutting
    • 3-0 nylon with 24 mm needle, 3/8 circle, reverse cutting
    • 4-0 nylon with 19 mm needle, 3/8 circle, reverse cutting 

I practiced all of the suturing techniques before starting my surgery rotation and the repetition really helped me feel more confident! Sim*Vivo was key to helping me feel prepared for suturing on rotations. I brought home different types of expired sutures from the hospital to practice what suturing would feel like with different materials. I also worked my way up from straight incisions to curved ones - and that was all possible with this suturing board! The integrated lines and dots helped me get the movements down before practicing on an incision without the marks to guide me. 

Although no model will ever perfectly simulate human skin, I found that learning the basics of the techniques on the Sim*Vivo kit was a good guide. Subcuticular suturing is actually far easier on human skin than it is on the Sim*Vivo model, but mastering the technique on the suturing board made suturing much easier on a real person. :) Repetition is key! 

I'm thrilled to have my suturing board from Sim*Vivo to practice throughout my clinical rotations. It will continue to help me throughout surgery, OBGYN, and pediatrics! Suturing is an important skill for any specialty. Check out Sim*Vivo's website for more information about getting yourself a suturing kit too! 

Doctors In Training (DIT)

September 14, 2017

I used Doctors in Training (DIT) during my dedicated study period for Step 1/Level 1 board exams and I wanted to share some honest thoughts about my experience with it. I have had many questions about the program so I thought it may be helpful for other people to read more about my thoughts about DIT. If you have any other questions about DIT after reading this post, please feel free to reach out to me at tatedoesthings (at) gmail (dot) com.

When did you get DIT?
I bought DIT in the fall of my second year of medical school.

How is DIT organized and how did you use it for board prep?

  • Primer Series: high yield videos available immediately after purchase. 
    • over 50 high yield videos and multiple choice quizzes (I never did use the quizzes)
    • I used the videos to supplement my classroom learning throughout my second year. It helped me focus on some of the high yield information and it was nice to have a taste of what DIT videos were like (the high yield videos are often pulled from the actual lecture videos used during dedicated study time in Part 2 of DIT)
  • Part 1: Questions & video answers available in January 
    • 34 question sets. Mostly free response to challenge your thought process. Video explanations to guide your understanding of the question sets. 
    • I did the question sets as they were released to me (they were released several times a week). I tried to answer the questions on my own, then I watched the video explanation. I took notes in my First Aid to help me start making connections throughout the year. 
  • Part 2: Study guide shipped in the spring and lecture videos released in March. 
    • Once you begin Part 2 of DIT, you have 60 days of access to the online videos. I began Part 2 in the beginning of May and opted to take 21 days to finish DIT. 

Did you get the OPP aspect of DIT?
No, I did not. I used OMT Review by Robert Savarese as well as the COMBANK question bank for my osteopathic review for COMLEX. I did have friends who really liked the OPP portion of DIT, but I didn't purchase it.

When did you start/end DIT for board prep? 
I started used Part 2 of DIT the first week of May and completed right around the beginning of June. While I gave myself 21 days to finish DIT, I know many other people who took longer or shorter amounts of time to complete it. It really depends on how you learn. I liked to annotate and write in my First Aid for USMLE because physically writing things down helps me retain the information. Classmates who were auditory learners could breeze through the video lectures faster than me.

My idea was to finish DIT and still have 3 weeks to focus on my weaker areas before taking my board exams. DIT recommends that you finish the course relatively close to your test date - but that gave me too much anxiety. I really wanted to get through all the information once and still have plenty of time to feel like I could focus my attention on topics that were more difficult for me.

What didn't you like about DIT? 

  • It takes an awfully long time to stay committed to and complete the program. I tend to think that in order to benefit from the program, it's important to take the time to do the quizzes before and after each video lecture. Repetition is key! It will take you longer than you think to get through all of it, and the closer you get to boards, the easier it is to feel like you are stuck in a program that takes a long time to complete. There will be moments of sheer panic - and I definitely wanted to quit because other classmates would spend the entire day doing practice questions. I struggled with feeling like I was wasting my time in comparison to my peers, but ultimately, I'm really happy I stuck with the program. 
  • Piggybacking off my last comment, I think DIT is something you need to commit to or avoid altogether. It's not a good resource for cherry-picking. This isn't a "reference resource." If you're on the fence with whether or not you're happy to stick to a strict program - - really reconsider if DIT is right for you. It really isn't for everyone. 
  • It's expensive. I certainly didn't love that. 

What did you like about DIT? 

  • DIT appealed to me as a visual learner. I liked all the charts, diagrams, and animations. 
  • I absolutely hate reading from a text and teaching myself. I knew I wanted to have more structure during the beginning of my board prep and DIT provided that for me. Additionally, I appreciated that on the video lectures, you could see the person while they were lecturing. I'm not the type to stare at slides with voices talking over it. I immediately get bored and distracted. For whatever reason, I like being able to see the person teaching (which is also why I preferred to go to live lectures in medical school!)
  • I had things I could do throughout the year to help me feel like I was gradually preparing for my board exams, without feeling super overwhelmed. I chose to watch the primer videos and complete the question sets because it made me feel better - - but it's just an option. You can do just fine without the extra work as well. 
  • It helped me become familiar with First Aid for USMLE Step 1. The book is huge. and intimidating. DIT follows First Aid and provides page numbers for reference to go along with each video. I loved being able to annotate and follow along with First Aid while completing DIT. That way, I was very familiar with First Aid and knew where to find information throughout the next three weeks before my exam. 
  • It broke up the monotonous study time. Once I finished DIT, I did tons of UWORLD questions and Sketchy Micro/Pharm. My days had a little bit more variety when I had DIT in addition to my other daily studies. When I was first thinking of my board prep study period, I knew I would go crazy if I tried to just do question sets on my own for weeks on end. The videos were a good, structured introduction to all the material and after completing the program, I felt confident approaching the rest of my studying. 
* * * * * 

I hope some of those answers will help! That's a quick overview, so feel free to reach out if you have other questions that I did not already address. 

I have absolutely no regrets about using DIT for my Step 1/Level 1 board prep. 

Now that I'm more confident in my ability to structure time studying for board exams, I am not planning on using DIT for Step 2. I am very happy with my decision to use it for Step 1 - - but keep your own learning style in mind as you start to build your own study plan. 

Best of luck! 

"Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows"

August 19, 2017

I remember every conversation I've ever had when I've learned about a loved one dying. I can recall exactly where I was, exactly who called, exactly what they said, and their exact tone of voice. 

My brother called me today to let me know my grandmother had died. We knew this was coming. She had been on hospice for several weeks. She had stopped eating much of anything. She stopped having the energy for conversation a long time ago. The last real conversation I had with her, she told me, "Tate, I'm dying. I'm ready to die." 

The process of dying looks different for every person. Sometimes it is short, other times it's prolonged. But there is one thing I do know - - it's never easy. 

The picture above was taken two years ago, on July 25, 2015, with my last remaining grandparents. With my parents divorce, I never had my grandparents together in one place until my white coat ceremony. This photo was taken by my mother - and it's so precious to me. 

In just over two years time, all three of my grandparents have died. In just two years. It all happened so fast. 

While I would never have imagined I would have watched all of my grandparents die in just two years, I am grateful. I am grateful for all they taught me. I am grateful for all the time they spent building relationships with me. I am grateful I have such vivid, sweet memories with them. I am grateful for what I've learned about death, dying, and grief. 

I have learned so much about how I process grief, as well as others around me. It's a lesson I never wished to learn so young, but I am thankful nonetheless. I have been reminded of the many faces of grief each time I lose a loved one, and it opens my heart be more understanding of others and the struggles they face. 
Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.
Moving into my clinical years, I hope to carry the lessons I've learned with me to help me be a more compassionate physician. I hope my heart remains full of empathy and understanding each time I work with family members losing a loved one. Death can bring every emotion to the surface, and we often have little control over the ebb and flow. One of the greatest lessons over the past two years has been learning how to ride the inevitable waves of emotion that come with each loss.

I will miss you, grams. You'll be in my heart forever. 

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