Home » Time Saving Tricks to Study for the Surgery Shelf During Clerkship

Time Saving Tricks to Study for the Surgery Shelf During Clerkship

12 min


Medical school students on their surgery rotation.


Surgery clerkship is well known for its long hours, which leaves little time for shelf exam studying. A normal day on the surgery ward involved waking up around 4 or 5am, getting to the hospital quickly, pre-rounding on your patients, and being ready for 6 or 6:30am rounds with your team. After this, you are rushed off to the operating room and spend the rest of your day scrubbed in on cases. In between those, you will likely PM round with your team, write progress notes, and see new consults. Unless it is a clinic day, your chances of getting home before 7PM are low. So how can you possibly study after a day like that? The good news is, you don’t have to, or at least not every day. Though it is normal to never feel ready for the shelf exam during your surgery clerkship, these time-saving tips will help you stay in line with your study schedule and ease your anxiety.



Make a Reasonable Study Schedule to Keep You Organized During Your Surgery Clerkship


As soon as you know your surgery rotation schedule, dedicate a couple of hours to writing out a study schedule that will keep you on track. Your surgery clerkship will include weeks of more busy services, such as trauma, but it will also dedicate time to lighter services, such as plastics or orthopedics. When creating your schedule, keep in mind that you will have more time to study on your lighter weeks and accordingly assign yourself more on those days. On average, you will have about one weekend day off per week. You can either assign yourself more on that day while leaving your weekdays light or leave this day to catch up on the studying left over from the week. Keep in mind that you also need to account for the study time you will need to prepare for each day’s cases. Most importantly, do your best to stick to this schedule, but do not panic if you fall behind. The curve for the surgery shelf is more forgiving than other exams since everyone is in the same boat of limited study time. (But this does not mean that you should rely on this! Study as hard as you would for any other shelf.)



Stick to a Couple of High-Yield Resources


Just like for USMLE exams, you want to choose a couple of high-yield resources. This will ensure that you get through all of the relevant material without feeling overwhelmed. This will also save you time on familiarizing yourself with many different resources. I recommend UWorld as your main resource and OnlineMedEd or Boards and Beyond to supplement your weaker topics. 



Start Studying Early During Your Surgery Clerkship


While on other rotations you could delay shelf exam studying for a few weeks, surgery is a different beast. Start studying as early as your first day of the rotation. The earlier you start, the more time you will have for studying. 



Make Your Studying Relevant


As you already know, the easiest way to remember medical knowledge is to learn from what you see on the wards. Remember I mentioned that you should account for the study time you will need to review for your cases? This time does not have to be irrelevant to shelf exam studying. Though you will likely need to go more in depth when learning about various surgeries, this knowledge is applicable to your shelf exam. Medical students are not expected to know every step of the procedure, but you will often be asked about the anatomy, which will also come up on your shelf. Thus, you should focus your review on the anatomy and briefly read about the steps. Furthermore, your knowledge will be solidified when you see real anatomy during your cases. Pro tip: If you do not get asked about anything, try to identify relevant anatomy during the surgery. If you are brave, you may even ask the resident and attending surgeon about what you see.



Study During Downtime


Though most of your days on surgery will be busy, there will be times when the day slows down, a case gets canceled, or most clinic patients do not show up. Use this time to do a few UWorld questions or flip through some flashcards. Keep in mind that you should only do this if there is absolutely nothing else to do. Ask your residents first if there is anything you can help with and remain available and near your team. If you get sent home early, maximize that time by catching up or getting ahead of your study schedule.



Keep Track of What You Miss


Make flashcards (Anki) for the questions you miss. Though it seems like a time-consuming task, I promise it will pay off. Closer to the test, you will want to review your missed questions but may not have time to do these again on UWorld. Even if you do not keep up with reviewing your cards daily, you will have them to review closer to the test. Alternatively, if flashcards are not your thing, create a Google doc and write down your missed concepts as you go through questions. This will also provide you with a way to review your weakest points closer to your test day.



Wake Up Earlier to Study


I know you will already be getting up earlier than usual on surgery but hear me out on this one. Get up one hour earlier and use that hour to study. In the morning, you have much more energy than you will have at the end of your long surgery day, and thus you will be much more productive with your studying. This does mean that you will have to adjust your sleep schedule to go to sleep one hour early, but trust me, you will want to sleep as soon as you get home after standing in the operating room all day long. Also, studying at the beginning of your day eases your anxiety about having to stay up to study after a long day of work.



Sleep When You Can During Your Surgery Clerkship


If you have not yet, you will hear the three rules of surgery on your rotation – “Eat when you can, sleep when you can, and don’t mess with the pancreas.” Go to bed early and sleep in on your days off. The better rested you are, the more productive your studying will be.


Surgery will be a tough rotation, but you will be surprised by how much you will learn. Optimize your shelf exam studying with these time-saving tips and you will set yourself up for success, and if you are looking for extra help, Elite Medical Prep has got you covered! Schedule a consultation to learn more about how 1-on-1 tutoring can help you succeed here: https://elitemedicalprep.com/contact/

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