I have received a lot of requests for a post on how I am going to prepare for boards, which boards I am taking, when I am taking them, etc. To be honest, I have put off this post on purpose, hesitant to write about what I am doing to prepare until after I have taken them. However, I decided to go ahead and write a post about what my plan is, what resources I am going to use, and what resources I have decided not to use and why. I am sure that I will continue to tweak my board study plan up until I take boards, so I will make sure to write update posts a long the way.
First of all, for those of you that don’t know, there are two types of physicians, MDs and DOs. If you want to learn more about the difference between them, check out my posts MD vs DO, Osteopathic Treatment, Understanding the DO Difference, Understanding Osteopathic Medicine, and The Residency Merger – Impact on Current Students (I didn’t realize how many posts I wrote on that topic!). But the bottom line is that there are two separate board exams.
What are Boards?
Boards are the licensing exams that you must take in order to graduate from medical school and be a licensed physician. The COMLEX is the DO licensing exam and the USMLE is the MD licensing exam. Both the COMLEX and the USMLE are taken in ‘steps’ or ‘levels.’ Just so you understand the lingo, the USMLE has ‘steps’ and the COMLEX has ‘levels.’ Step/level 1 is an 8-9 hour written exam that you take after your second year of medical school. Step/level 2 is taken in your 3rd year and consists of another written exam in addition to a ‘physical exam’ portion. Step/level 3 is a two day exam you take after you graduate from medical school, sometime in your intern year of residency.
Which Boards Should I take?
MD students take the USMLE while DO students take the COMLEX and have the option of taking the USMLE as well. A common misconception that I have heard is that you can obtain an MD as well as a DO if you take both boards. This is NOT true. The MD or DO behind your name is the degree that you earn from your medical school. So why would DO students want to take the USMLE? Short answer: more options for residency. Right now, DO and MD residencies are separate. However, the AOA and ACGME are merging to form a single accreditation system, meaning that the DO and MD residencies are merging and there will be ONE system accrediting all doctors. Before the merger, DOs could apply to MD residencies, but only certain residencies would accept the COMLEX (meaning you had to take the USMLE if you wanted to apply to those specific residencies). The merger is currently in year 2 of the 5 year phase in period, so it will be complete AFTER I have applied to residency. Technically, I should be able to just take the COMLEX and apply to all the residencies I want because they will all be 1 year way from a single accreditation system when I start. However, I am going to take the USMLE as well as the COMLEX to (hopefully) make myself a more competitive applicant as well as open up my options to residencies that are new to accepting the COMLEX. (I wrote an entire post about deciding to take both the USMLE and COMLEX… check back soon!)
My (current) Study Plan
This is just going to be a general time line and explanation of what resources I am using or not using. I plan on writing a more comprehensive post after I take the boards and talk about what I liked doing and what I would have changed.
I am going to take both the COMLEX and the USMLE mid June. I will study for both boards exactly the same up until I take the USMLE. I am taking the USLME and then 6 days later I am taking the COMLEX. In between the USMLE and the COMLEX I will study the osteopathic manipulative medicine material that will be on the COMLEX. My school purchased The WolfPacc Clinical Integration (board prep) course for us to take after our semester ends in April. I plan on getting a first pass through First Aid, Pathoma and SketchyMicro/Pharm during the semester, take the Wolfpacc course all of May, and use two weeks in June as ‘dedicated study’ before I take both exams.
- First Aid for the USMLE – Using. Talk to any medical student and they will tell you that this is essentially the holy grail for board prep (or med school in general). I am going to use this book along with every resource so I have one text I can continuously reference back to.
- Pathoma – Using. If you have read any of my other posts about specific medical school courses, you will know how obsessed I am with Pathoma. I love the simple layout of the book and how it highlights just the important parts. I also think that the videos do an excellent job of explaining the pathology.
- SketchyMicro & SketchyPharm – Using. Also another essential. I hands down believe that Sketchy is the best thing that has happened to med school board prep. I have mad respect for every doctor before me that had to memorize all of the drugs, bacteria, viruses, etc. without Sketchy.
- COMBANK – Using. My school provided us with COMBANK. I will use this to learn the COMLEX style of questioning after I take the USMLE.
- UWorld – Using. Everyone swears by a different method of using UWorld (timed vs. tutor mode or systems vs. random). After doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people, I have decided to use it on tutor mode and gradually work my way up to random. For example, I am starting off with neuro (First Aid, Pathoma + Pharm). I will start my questions with just neuro. As I move on to the next system I am studying (I believe I am doing heme/onc next), I will create neuro + heme/onc question banks. I will continue to do this until I have studied all of the systems and each new question bank I do is random.
- DIT – Using (sort of). I am going to watch the DIT videos for topics that I have trouble with.
- Cram Fighter – Using. My school also provided us with Cram Fighter. Basically, you input all the resources you want to use and how many hours per week you want to study. Cram Fighter then creates your own personalized schedule for you. I highly recommend getting Cram Fighter, mainly because it takes the stress out of getting everything done. I don’t have to worry if I scheduled everything in that I want to do because Cram Fighter keeps track of it for me.
- WolfPacc – Using. We are required to do the WolfPacc course through my school. I don’t know much about it, but I will write about my experience with it afterwords.
- BRS – NOT using. I don’t like the layout of the BRS books and I think I have enough resources already.
- Firecracker – NOT using. Firecracker is basically a way to memorize First Aid and Pathoma. I used it a little here and there throughout my two years, but I didn’t find it that helpful. I regret buying it. You can’t really study specific topics. Technically it has the option to do so, but I would rather just create my own flashcards that are even more specific if I need to. On top of that, I don’t really learn very well with flashcards.
- Picmonic – NOT using. This is basically a different version of Sketchy. They have pathology (unlike Sketchy), but the videos are not as cohesive or entertaining. I will admit, however, that it was awesome for heme/onc pathology.
There are SO many resources out there, so this is not a comprehensive list of what I am NOT using. I chose to write about a few resources that I considered using, or have used throughout the years, and why I won’t be incorporating them into my board prep study plan. However, this IS a comprehensive list of what I AM using. Basically, I am focusing on First Aid, Pathoma, SketchyMicro/Pharm and integrating q-banks like UWorld and COMBANK. Everything else is supplemental (for now).
Comment down below with any questions or comments! I would love to hear thoughts about which resources did or did not work, which resources you are using, or any advice for those of you who have taken boards. :)