Beyond Textbooks & Lectures – Nurul Atiqah



“If you read 20 pages of Davidson every day, 7 days a week, by 10 weeks you will be able to finish the book. Well, you don’t have to read it cover to cover, just read about the cases you see in the hospital.”

This is what my doctor told a hall full of fourth and sixth year medical students who were going to start their Internal Medicine rotation. His statement is just one of the many examples of other doctors who stressed on the importance of textbooks in medicine. However, I have also encountered doctors who hold a different view regarding the issue; they are more interested in the journal publications and clinical practice guidelines. Doctors in the university health center are all provided with the access to UptoDate, DynaMED and other evidence-based medicine resources. It occurred to me that medicine is so dynamic and we should not depend solely on our textbooks.

Given that memorizing facts will not get you anywhere in medicine, understanding core concepts in a given topic is the key to success. Understanding a concept in medicine can be achieved by several ways, one of which is attending lectures. Hours and hours of reading your textbook cannot compare to attending a lecture. A lecture is usually designed to help you organize your knowledge and emphasise on the important things that you should master in a certain subject. While lectures and textbooks may be the cornerstone of studying medicine, it is not for everybody. There are people like me who can’t last longer than 15 minutes on the textbooks or when the lecture is longer than 30 minutes, my thoughts are all over the place. People like me obviously need to study at our own pace, with regular breaks to regain our focus point. Here are some things I found to be helpful.


The vast amount of videos available on YouTube has been a huge help for a visual learner like me as I find it easier to understand concepts in medicine when it is explained alongside with drawings and diagrams. Whenever I encounter a topic that is difficult to digest, despite reading about them multiple times, I turn to doctors on YouTube who had never failed me. I am also inspired by these doctors who are really passionate about helping young medical students in their studies.

Evidence-Based Medicine Resources

I think guidelines are the best reference for clinical students. It is regularly updated and keeps you on the right track. It is concise, straightforward and does not include details that has no significance to your practice. As far as the exams are concerned, textbooks and lectures should be our main point of reference, but I believe for our medical practice, evidence-based medicine is essential. I think medical students should familiarize themselves with the system. Most universities provide free access to these databases and journals. If you don’t know how to get the free access, do not hesitate to ask your librarian.

Clinical Teaching

I love my clinical teaching session – even though there are days when I struggled with getting out of bed to go to the hospital – as I take them as an opportunity to learn with great physicians. Medicine is different than other specialty; you cannot become doctors just from reading your textbooks and attending lectures. You need to be around real doctors to learn the art of dealing with real patients. It is not just about your knowledge but your attitude as well and clinical teaching session is the most important part of the training that will shape the kind of doctor you will be. They are also intended to train your way of thinking, the way you organize your thoughts and how to use the information you already have from your pre-clinical years.


“He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.” – William Osler.

Our patients are our biggest asset in learning medicine. Most of the time we will encounter “classic textbook presentations” and occasionally there will be the patient who does not fit into what is being said in our books and lectures – the kind that trigger us to understand the subject even more. Not only patients can help us with our medical knowledge, once in a while you will learn more than that from them – they will teach you about life. It could be through their stories, or the random facts, tips and tricks they share with you and sometimes just dealing with them is a lesson by itself.

Given the importance of learning directly from real patients, I believe it is our responsibility as medical students to share this with people around us. I tell my friends and family about how grateful I am for those patients I see on daily basis and I hope they will be as helpful and cooperative as my patients were to me. It makes me happy every time a family member told me that they let medical students take history and perform physical examinations on them – just because they know how precious patients are to the medical students. Spread the word, you might make a medical student’s life easier.

As I am approaching the end of my student days, I wish I knew then what I know now – to appreciate each day you have in medical school as life after you graduate would be a lot tougher and more challenging. There is no need to worry too much in your college years, just enjoy every moment and take each day as an opportunity to discover something new.

So, when textbooks and lectures overwhelm you, what would you resort to?

This article is written by Nurul Atiqah, who recently graduated from Jordan University of Science and Technology. Click the Young Columnists tab under The Team to know about her.

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