Med School Q&A: Step 1 boards and Prego interviewing

Monday, March 3, 2014

 Posting this picture again from our volunteer trip to Peru because it's my fav white coat pic

It's been a while since I've linked up with Medical Mondays! If you're new here, I'll be graduating in May with my M.D. (you can read more about my journey to med school here). I decided to do a Q&A post today on two of the most popular reader questions that I've gotten about med school and residency interviewing (I was planning on answering three but two ended up being plenty long for one post!). If you have other questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at and I will do this post again in the future.

Question 1: Can you share some advice on how you studied for Step 1 boards?

Well, first of all I'm no expert on studying for boards and I do think that everyone has different study methods that work for them! That being said, it definitely helps to hear how other people studied and if they found it effective. I was fortunate to score above the 90th percentile on my board exams (thanks to studying and prayer!) which is very helpful when it comes to interviewing for residency (although keep in mind that if you don't get the score you want residency programs really do look at the whole picture).

So my advice on Step 1: I did not start doing boards prep questions until March of second year, during my Cardiology unit. I think the best advice for second year is to focus on learning each unit really well rather than starting boards studying early, since your second year courses will prepare you for boards. We took a practice exam during the spring when I hadn't start focused boards studying yet and I scored close to the median for Step 1 without really any boards-focused prep (which I definitely attribute to doing well in my second year courses). I set my goal score at 30 points above that practice exam, which is supposed to be a realistic goal if you plan to spend 4-6 weeks studying. I started my actual Step 1 studying about 5 weeks before I took the exam and studied 8-10 (occasionally more) hours per day, with a few days off (I actually was in a wedding the weekend before I took my boards). Taking a few days off to refresh yourself is definitely important.

So the nitty gritty of how I studied: I structured my studying loosely on The Step 1 Method, which my school promoted. Basically you make a schedule for your study time of how many days you will spend in each area (ie 4 days for biochem, 1 1/2 for genetics, 2 for anatomy, 4 for cardiology, 4 for neurology, etc.) On each study day, you do blocks of 46 questions at a time (UWorld questions seem to be the universal gold standard and are what I used). Set the practice tests on "Tutor" mode which means doing one question at a time and reading the explanation for each question after you do it. After you read the explanation, read the corresponding section in First Aid and annotate any important things that are missing into First Aid (don't go too in-depth on this). At the end of each subject, do the questions that you got wrong over again. I did the prep questions by subject, but it's a good idea to do blocks of random questions the last couple days of studying. I found this method of studying very effective and used a similar method to study for Step 2. I tried to keep exercising (both to stay sane and because I got married in August after I took my boards) so most days I would either go on my elliptical trainer while I watched Pathoma lectures or walk around the neighborhood while I listened to Goljan audio lectures.

Good luck!

Question : I want to have a baby fourth year, but I've been told that it's not a good idea to show up for residency interviews pregnant. What do you think and how did you find interviewing to be while pregnant?

This is a question that I heard a lot of advice on both sides about before I interviewed for residency. I had always felt that I should 'plan' (my husband and I use natural family planning so we have a certain openness about it, although we find our method very effective) the pregnancy so that I would not look pregnant while I was interviewing. My practical self was worried that it could hurt me in the match despite the fact that I did well on boards and received AOA. However, my fears were probably unfounded since I was told (and now believe, though I was skeptical at first) that any program who would rank you lower for being pregnant is not a program that you want to be at anyways. Also, it is much better for the program if you have a baby during fourth year then during intern year. But the bottom line is that I don't think med school should dictate when to start a family.

As far as my experience, I wasn't showing enough to appear pregnant during most of my interviews (esp. with this awesome loose blouse that I wore) and I didn't tell programs that I was expecting (except for one peds emergency physician who asked and was totally supportive). My very last interviews in January I was 22 weeks and showing a little but I didn't find it to be an issue. I wore my regular suit blazer with some black maternity pants and this blouse (I wouldn't suggest wearing a tight black minidress with stilettos like the one other fellow prego on the interview trail was wearing - you don't need to emphasize it more than it shows naturally!).

I will deliver in May so I will have just enough time before I start intern year. Looking at everything now, it would have been nice to deliver earlier in fourth year so that I could have had more time with the baby (we purposefully tried to plan it so I wouldn't be showing for interviews but now I realize that there are more important things). Overall, I've gotten a lot of encouragement and support from residents and physicians who had children in residency and we are just so excited to grow our little family.


  1. Thank you for the step 1 advice! Although that hell is still 15 months away for me, I feel it may be helpful to use some of those resources now. We just started systems 2 weeks ago, but Pathoma and First Aid are my new best friends already ;)

  2. This is super helpful. My husband is MSIII and we have a friend who is MSIII herself, as is her husband. My husband and I had our daughter in February of his MSII, and our friends (who are also Catholic! huzzah!) see the joy she brings to our life and have decided to be open to life earlier than they'd ever planned. But it comes at a price for any female student physician, I think, because there is SUCH a balancing act. You've done a beautiful job of showing how to balance a challenging training path with motherhood and I think your post will be a great encouragement to my friend, who is very nervous about it. :)

  3. Thanks for linking up the Medical Mondays again, we have missed you. Congratulations on your upcoming delivery, and perfect timing:-) We just started using NFP. In fact, I think you left some very encouraging comments on my blog when I decided to stop taking BC pills. Thanks!

  4. Love your advise about interviewing while pregnant. Totally agree. You don't need to flaunt the belly more than what's natural.
    I am so excited for your match day!

  5. Visiting from Medical Mondays - congrats on the pregnancy! How exciting. :) And of course, good luck with Match day! I'm not sure exactly when it is for you guys in the US, but it's on Wednesday for my Med 4 friends, so I'm sure they're all a bit on edge.

  6. hey Erika,
    I am visiting from Medical Mondays, but I also follow your blog on Bloglovin'. My husband is the medical one in the relationship, but we also had a baby during 4th year, so I know how exciting, but also a bit stressful, the whole thing can be. It seems like you are doing great and I wish you the best of luck with the match and starting up residency with the little one. Enjoy the time off that you'll have and take it easy and pamper yourself a little before things get really crazy!!

  7. Stopping by to say Hi via MM Blog Hop! Congratulations!

  8. Great job balancing baby and med life! Some of my friends who had children during residency/school say it was the most challenging thing they did but actually helped them get through the days. Hi from medical mondays :)

  9. Hi Erica,

    I'm really interested in NFP... It's none of my business, but did you plan for this pregnancy? I ask because I LOVE the idea of NFP - but the only 2 people I've known who have used NFP ended up having a little one before they were planning on getting pregnant. Anyways, none of my business but curious.

    1. Hey! I actually mentioned this in a post awhile back :) Our pregnancy was 100% planned...we wanted to have our baby late enough in 4th year that I wouldn't be showing for interviews and early enough that I would have a little time before intern that meant April or May, and our little guy is due in May (although we would have been just as excited had he been due when we weren't planning for him). NFP is very effective when it is understood AND used correctly. Most of the couples I know who had 'unplanned' babies with NFP it was because they either didn't know how to use NFP properly or they chose to not use it properly (it's not easy). We used it successfully for a year after we got married and will continue to use the Marquette Method (which I linked to in my post) in the future.

  10. So much fun having a new little one... and as far as I'm concerned, there's never a good time to have a baby. No matter how hard you try to plan, life is just too unpredictable! Good to have you on the grid with us again!! Thank you!

  11. Thanks for all this info! I know you got back to my e-mail in the beginning of my second year telling me to focus on second year courses, and as I review my first aid, I'm finding it all coming back to me a lot faster. Thanks so much! I'm hoping I can kick some butt on step 1 (although I doubt I'll get near your score, you genius!)

  12. Hi! I'm coming by from Medical Monday. I really enjoyed your post and your advice. Currently, I am preparing for boards and we are taking some pretty intense courses. As such, I decided to study well for the course in hopes that I won't have to spend a lot of time reviewing it later. Great advice and good luck with match!

  13. From MM LOL @ fellow prego, I really liked your advice, very realistic and practical. Good luck on the match!

  14. Actually now that I think about it, 4th year (the ghost year) is the best year to get preggers in comparison to intern year.


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