The Pragmatist’s Guide to Studying in Stage One


Konrad Shultz shares some well-buffed pearls of wisdom about thriving in the SMP. First years listen closely! 

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Disclaimer: There isn’t only one way to study. Different people learn in different ways. I recommend trying out a few things and seeing what sticks. That said, here is what I found worked last year.

Take Home Points

• Try to make time to study and don’t neglect your health.

• Figure out your priorities and goals.

• Annotated lecture slides are high yield but not complete resources.

• Anki for days.

• Use hand-me-down notes and anki decks but make your own additions.

• Use other resources but don’t make these the majority of your study.

• Try to do some practice questions before RSAs.

Balance and Goals:

It’s important to set realistic goals for yourself. It’s going to be very different to anything you have ever experienced before, I know people keep telling you this but it is true. Your cohort is filled with bright, hardworking people and getting an “average” mark simply suggests you are a bright, hardworking person. You should aim to pass RSA 1 comfortably and then improve on that in the future.

From what I’ve seen, struggling or succeeding in medicine isn’t a reflection of intelligence.  Generally, those who struggle,  have other things in their life that make putting the necessary time into studying difficult. Similarly, people who do well often have very good study habits and are in a position where they are able to spend a large portion of their time studying. It is good to remember that you aren’t all working from the same starting point.

I think it’s important to figure out your priorities and stick to them and to try and structure your life to reflect your priorities. For me my first priority is my mental and physical health and medicine comes second to that, followed by pretty much everything else. As a consequence of this, I won’t cut down on sleep or stop exercising regularly in the weeks prior to an exam but I might cut down on going out with friends or other hobbies.

Ultimately USYD Medicine is pass/fail in the first two years so your marks matter far less than being happy and healthy, provided you pass.

How I study

I don’t normally attend lectures. I’ve found I get far more study done and am less likely to burn out if I watch lecture recordings sped-up at home or in the library. That said some people like lectures, do what works for you. Lecturers will certainly appreciate seeing a lecture theatre full of your bright and shining faces at 8 or 9 AM.

Lecture slides aren’t complete resources but they will highlight what the lecturer thinks is important. I’ve found it useful to annotate lecture slides as you are listening to lectures and use these as a major resources. That said, annotated lecture slides aren’t a complete resources and it’s important to use a variety of resources.

Anki is an absolutely brilliant program and extremely valuable. Use anki every day. If you aren’t using flashcards of some sort or other you are probably doing something wrong. I found I saved a massive amount of time by using anki decks and notes made by more senior students and annotating and making my own additional cards. That said, some people find making notes and flashcards themselves helps them engage better with the material.

Finally, try to do some practice questions prior to the RSAs.

Textbooks and Learning Resources

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The recommended textbooks from the School of Medicine can be extremely large and boring so here are my thoughts on some of the more user friendly resources out there.

General Resources

  • First Aid for the USMLE. The bible for US students, still worth getting and spending lots of time with even if, like me, you have no intention of sitting the USMLE.
  • Brosencephalon anki deck. Consists of First Aid for the USMLE and Pathoma content in anki form. Quite a good deck to supplement your learning for each block but is quite in depth so only bother if you are looking for deeper coverage of content.
  • Dr Najeeb Medical Lectures. A very large collection of lectures on a variety of topics. Typically his lectures are pretty long-winded (I think there are 5 lectures on the cavernous sinus and another 4 on Trigeminal Neuralgia) but his explanations are generally pretty easy to understand.
  • USMLE Rx New Videos. I thought these were quite good and very concise.
  • Talley and O’Connor, Clinical Examination. This is considered to be a bible for physician training.


  • Rohen, Yokochi, & Lütjen-Drecoll,  Color Atlas of Anatomy: A Photographic Study of the Human Body. An absolutely beautiful book. It is invaluable for preparing for practicals and spot tests.
  • Acland’s Anatomy. A great video series by one of the pioneers of plastic and reconstructive microsurgery, I like to watch it when I’m too worn out to do any other study.
  • University of Michigan School of Medicine Anatomy Practice Questions.  A useful series of practice questions to check you know your stuff (see link below).

Histology and Pathology

  • Pathoma An extremely good resource, covers most relevant pathology and pathophysiology very quickly.
  • Goljan Audio Lectures. I found these quite good. I especially recommend downloading them onto your phone and then listening to them while in transit


  • Costanzo, Physiology. I absolutely love this book, very concise, well explained, not too much nor too little information. I didn’t feel the need to look at any other general physiology textbooks.

Block by Block

Block 1 (Too late sorry guys!)

  • Gladwin, Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Easy. Essentially a complete microbiology textbook but was written with the intention of being easy to read and remember.
  • SketchyMicro One of the best resources out there if you are a visual learner.
  • Abbas &  Lichtman, Basic Immunology: Functions and Disorders of the Immune System. This book is straight forward, well written, with about the right level of knowledge. If you’ve studied immunology before you (or if you are a massive nerd) might want to look at the parent book.

Block 2

If anyone finds a rheumatology resource that makes the subject vaguely accessible please tell me.

Block 3

  • West, Respiratory Physiology: The Essentials and Pulmonary Pathophysiology: The Essentials. These are brilliant concise textbooks that will make block 3 a piece of cake. Get them and then read them.
  • West, Lectures in Pulmonary Physiology and Pathophysiology: They can be found on YouTub and are a good introduction for people who like watching lectures (or who are interested in orthopaedics and find reading challenging). They cover a lot of the same content as the textbooks.

Block 4

  • Hoffbrand, Essential Haematology. The parent book was a bit too large for me and this was about right.

Block 5

  • Hampton, ECG Made Easy and 150 ECG Problems. There are plenty of good ECG books and it doesn’t matter which one you get.
  • Lily, Pathophysiology of Heart Disease. Considered by many to be the cardio bible.

Useful Websites

Other useful university sites:

Useful YouTube channels include: