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Brushing Up on Basics

Systematic review for the USMLE and clinical years

The New Physician May-June 2007
Students hitting the boards and the wards need systematic review texts and books offering compact clinical overviews. The Crash Course series from Mosby/Elsevier strives to be both.

Each of the 23 titles in the series offers an illustrative approach using diagrams, charts and tables to summarize key concepts. The concise format is not exhaustive, but conveys user-friendly basic-sciences material for first- and second-year medical students, and the series allows you to keep some of the most important basic-sciences topics within your immediate grasp. Overall, the books are a solid review of essential knowledge, replete as study guides or companions for more exhaustive texts.

Crash Course: Endocrine and Reproductive Systems (Mosby, $29.95) provides the fundamentals from embryonic development to endocrine organ structure and function, with each section covering the anatomy, microstructure, development and hormones of the gland. Later chapters cover the female and male reproductive systems.

Clear charts and diagrams are helpful study guides, and the review questions at the end of each chapter and online give ample opportunity to build on your expertise: “Describe jet lag from an endocrine point of view,” for example. While not exhaustive, the questions do prevent lethargy from the repetition required for competence. (Hint: Think about circadian rhythms and melatonin.)

The overlap and integration of different systems is glossed over by the text, but keeping it simple allows students to build from a sound foundation. The complexity in learning the endocrine and reproductive systems is easily compounded by emerging new concepts and breakthroughs in molecular biology and genetics. Newer findings, like the role of the hormone leptin, are introduced, but it would have been better also to include a section on adipose tissue as an endocrine gland. Still, this makes for a solid review text, especially if you need to strengthen your core understanding of the endocrine and reproductive systems.

Crash Course: Neurology (Mosby, $29.95) centers on the patient, with consideration of numerous neurological disorders. The first part of the book includes sections that describe disorders and disturbances most likely to challenge you in the clinical setting, such as headache, visual impairment, dizziness and vertigo. The content strategy for this book centers on epidemiological data for the prevalence of neurological conditions. History, examination and common investigations are covered in four chapters, which can be handy for clinical settings. Conditions like dementia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, myelopathy and radiculopathy are approached with background information and management plans, but anatomy is sparse. This makes the book more of an introductory clinical guide than a basic-sciences review text. The absence of embryonic development or discussions on cellular structure and function, like axonal transport or excitable properties of neurons, will leave those looking for board-review material disappointed, and there are no review questions at the end of the sections.

Still, the diagrams and charts that are available sufficiently summarize the details, and the complexity does not seem overwhelming. This one may make a good pocket guide for clinical rotations.
Katherine Ellington, a second-year at St. George’s University School of Medicine, is currently working with the Program in Narrative Medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.