Mikael Häggström [note 1]
This section consists relatively more of opinions based on experiences by the author rather than hard science, but is nevertheless aimed at maximizing the potential of any reader to do the greatest amount of net benefit to patients in a cost-effective way.
Using Sci-hub can not be recommended, as it illegally gives you access to vast numbers of otherwise closed-access articles that you would otherwise have to pay to view. In the same manner, if your hospital blocks access to Sci-hub, or if you are worried about cyber-police, it cannot be recommended to use your own smartphone to access such articles, potentially using VPN to browse anonymously. It can be argued, however, that using Sci-hub is ethically right if you access an article through Sci-hub that you wouldn't have paid for anyway, and that you cause an overall good effect in the world when you use the knowledge therein to help others.
Dealing with Internet denialists and their exams
An Internet denialist is basically a person who probably knows about the existence of the Internet, but keeps teaching as if it didn't exist. An Internet denialist generally does not seem to distinguish memorization-worthy from look-up information, finding pride or other justification for memorizing even facts that can presumably always be looked up in time of need, sometimes even practically useless information. The main problem is that when Internet denialist has memorized something, he or she often assumes that pathology trainees should memorize it as well, and will waste time and effort from the pathology trainee on such memorization. In reality, when something is encountered and looked up enough times, it will generally get memorized, and apart from the necessary items listed in the Learning pathology section, it is generally more efficient to let time tell which situations will be common versus uncommon, rather than trying to memorize knowledge that may never be needed.
Yet, as a trainee, the best approach is to never call a senior an Internet denialist, even in gossip, out of respect and professionalism. Also, generally do not defy Internet denialist study instructions from seniors, even if they seem like a relative waste of time, but possibly politely question if it is necessary. Yet, you may spend the minimal time and effort on such tasks in order to spend more time with your patients at hand, or learn things that are necessary to memorize. Don't be ashamed to say that you don't know the answer when an Internet denialist puts you on the spot about a piece of look-up information, and don't be ashamed to say that you usually look it up when a clinician asks about look-up information. Also, while you should initially focus on learning the most common conditions, seniors may already have learned the common conditions, at least in their field of interest, and they will often distract you from your pursuit by presenting rare conditions to you, because that is now interesting to them, but do not spend more than minimal time or mental effort on such rare conditions during at least your first years. Yet, you may still encourage their enthusiasm by pretending to be interested in their rare cases.
An Internet denialist exam is basically any exam wherein the examiner does not have access to the Internet, and typically is not allowed to ask colleagues either, and does not get such pertinent information presented, even for non-emergent topics that can conveniently and timely be handled by such resources. Since the Internet and teamwork are fundamental parts of everyday practice, such exams are thereby of a different dimension compared to reality, and their score do not correspond to actual pathology proficiency.
Efficient studying for Internet denialist exams will allow you more time, effort and brain space to memorize what you actually need, as well as to perform for example studying for solving your actual everyday pathology cases as per sections above. Since exams and everyday practice are generally very different, it is more efficient to study either specifically for an exam, or to study specifically for solving each case you encounter in everyday practice, rather than trying to study any material with the intention of covering both purposes. After all, you will become proficient at what you do: If you read textbooks from front to back then you will be more proficient at reading textbooks from front to back, and if you study to solve everyday cases on your table then you will become good at that, whereas the best way of becoming more proficient at multiple choice exams like the American boards is to practice qbanks with a similar multiple choice format. There are multiple ones for the American boards (PathPrimer, PathDojo, BoardVitals, ASCP Resident Q bank), and you should preferably go through all of them and then repeat at least the questions you failed the first time, before continuing with any other types of study materials. People differ in their opinions of what are the best qbanks, so form your own opinion which you think works best for you during the first round, and preferentially repeat those. By practice, your mind will in time be primed to select the most likely answer according to the epidemiology in the population you practice on, and when comparing to the real life population, the typical imaginary population in exams has for example a much higher rate of serious disease (particularly cancer) rather than benign, unspecific or artefactual findings. The exam population also has a vast overrepresentation of very rare diseases that happen to be related to certain (but still not directly clinically useful) molecular processes. For example, an exam patient with bleeding diathesis has a relatively high probability of having for example Bernard–Soulier syndrome because it is related to a receptor of the clotting cascade. After you are done with the exam, you need to more or less re-prime yourself back to the real population where for example idiopathic thrombocytopenia is far more common. For highest yield, study as follows:
- Get a habit of reading the question first (usually the last sentence), and then read the rest of the presentation, so that you can focus on the parts that helps you answer it.
- When reviewing questions, don't read every explanation for every answer, but just the answers that contradicted your belief, just enough to learn why it wasn't what you initially thought.
- Spend just enough time on answer explanations to get a hunch of what makes the right choice most likely, because that's basically all you need to choose that right answer if it would appear in the actual exam. Don't memorize every clue and every detail in answer explanations. For example, for a picture of a hairy cell and a question about mutations, your brain probably just needs to associate it with for example "barf 600 something", rather than knowing that suspected hairy cell leukemia is confirmed by genetic testing for the BRAF V600E mutation (and in everyday practice this can timely and conveniently be looked up when you need it). To check if you have remembered a question sufficiently, you may for example review the correct answers for a test until you almost immediately find them to be reasonable rather than unfamiliar, and repeat the question later if you have the time.
- If the Qbank shows the average percentage of test takers who got a question right, put somewhat more effort on learning and repeating questions that you got wrong but has a high percentage, since you generally have more of an expectation of knowing those.
- Statement that a disease would never have a certain feature can generally be regarded as false, since even exam makers cannot exclude that such a feature may at some point occur somewhere in the world.