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  • Prem Sundaram

Learning in Medical School - Flashcards (more than Anki!)

Updated: Jul 19


Importance of Medical Flashcards

Flashcards are extremely important for medical studies, given the vast quantity of information that needs to be learned and memorized at medical school. Not only for students of medicine who study anatomy, pharmacology, surgical practice or medication, for instance, but also practicing nurses and doctors in the healthcare industry studying for continuing education for their nursing, professional and board certifications, such as with AMA. It is critical to learn not only medical terms, but concepts as well as - increasingly - new algorithms and other technologies each year as new innovations develop. Flashcards provide an effective way to learn key concepts and information needed. In this article we will show the variety of paper, and electronic, options available to you.


Person viewing iPad about anatomy
Learning Human Anatomy on iPad


Medical Flashcard Types

There are three main options for studying medical flashcards and we will discuss a few of them in this article.

1) Pre-made physical medical flashcards, which you can buy. They are physical boxes of cards that are pre-printed with learning materials, questions and answers

2) Medical digital flashcard apps that are single purpose and basically digital versions of the above, either as a PDF or as an app.

3) Digital flashcard apps that provide blank cards where you can make your own - and sometimes content is also available from the community that can be downloaded.

Some of the electronic app versions will often provide a study mode type of function, where you can learn with spaced repetition or similar form of memorization tool. Anki being one of the most well known.

Flashcards help to Memorize

As a medical student, it is hard to memorize all of the information in a short amount of time. Some schools have created Human Anatomy, Physiology and Medical Terminology flashcards so that students can learn about the body's anatomy and functions, and become more confident.

Medical Flashcards are a great way to study for exams, quiz yourself on material from lectures, or just have easy-to-carry reference cards when out in the world or to review on the go. You can also easily create your own flashcards. There are advantages to also creating your own - it is part of the active learning study process to help you learn and remember the information, so a mix of pre-made and self-made can be a good learning strategy. Viewing medical flashcards, reading books and watching learning videos all help as multiple learning channels and help to improve retention.

Pre-Made Physical Flashcards

There are many medical and human anatomy publishers who have produced their own human anatomy collections, often with images and definitions, as well as related theories. While some of them are free and excellent - many others do often charge you for monthly subscriptions for premium content. Some of them also may have digital and/or apps to various degrees of sophistication like either just a PDF of their material or a proper dedicated app.

Examples of pre-made medical flashcards include those from Corexcel.com and barcharts.com

The Best Medical Flashcard Apps

In addition to the physical cards that have online equivalents, there are many technology mobile app options out there that also have pre-made medical flashcards. We don't want to list all of them but some that we have found include either a focus on human anatomy, pharmacology or on medical terminology. There is a large range of medical flashcards, and you will find not only ones for anatomy, but also physiology flash cards, flashcards about the nervous system, skeletal system, respiratory system, digestive system, lymphatic system, urinary system or even the integumentary system, as well as pathology information.


  • Kenhub Daily Anatomy Flashcards

  • USMLE Pharmacology Flashcards

  • USMLE Clinical Anatomy Quiz

  • Medical Vocabulary Flashcards (EMS Flashcards)

  • Anatomy 3D Atlas


anatomy flashcard
Image from KenHub Anatomy Website

The best flashcards might also be the ones you create yourself - see below.


Learning Human Anatomy

Human anatomy is a very difficult subject but can be mastered with the right tools. There are many medical terms that are important to memorize when studying anatomy and medicine. Apart from the need for memorization there is also a need for understanding foundations / background research. This can help you to understand the relationship between different structures, their location and how they work together. The ability to apply knowledge is also relevant for students. When it comes to medical student education anatomists are important because mastering human anatomy requires creativity and skills of observation. Medical programs aim at providing students with basic anatomical knowledge - but also more advanced information. This is all important as one learns about the human anatomy in order to become a health care practitioner.

Learning Medical Terminology

Learning medical terminology can be a daunting task. However, there are some basic steps that you can take to make it easier. First, start by learning the root words. These are the building blocks of medical terminology and will help you understand the meaning of new terms. Next, learn the suffixes and prefixes that are commonly used in medical terminology. These will help you understand the meaning of new terms as well. Finally, practice using medical terminology in everyday conversation. This will help you become more comfortable with using medical terminology and will also help you remember new terms.

Learning Pharmacology

Pharmacology is the study of how drugs work in the body. It is a branch of medicine that deals with the identification, mode of action, therapeutic effects and side effects of drugs. Pharmacologists also study the ways in which drugs are metabolized by the body and how they are excreted. Tips for learning pharmacology include:


  1. Understand the basic concepts of pharmacology. This includes understanding how drugs work in the body, how they are metabolized, and how they interact with other drugs.

  2. Be familiar with the different types of drugs. There are four main categories of drugs: prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, and dietary supplements. Each category has its own set of rules and regulations.

  3. Learn about the different routes of administration. Drugs can be taken orally, by injection, or topically. The route of administration affects how the drug is absorbed into the body and how it works.

  4. Be aware of the side effects of drugs. All drugs have the potential to cause side effects. Some side effects are more common than others.

  5. Know when to take a drug and how to store it properly. Drugs should be taken as directed by a healthcare provider. They should be stored in a cool, dry place out of reach of children and pets.




How to Make your Own Handwritten Medical Flashcards

As mentioned, creating a medical flashcard deck for yourself can help to further instill the knowledge you have learned better. The act of making notes from your medical classes, reading materials and then summarizing the information and putting into a card is beneficial for establishing memory pathways. There are two ways to create flashcards by hand - use paper index cards or use an app like NoteDex to create handmade flashcards.


In both cases these options allow you to create high quality flashcards with images, drawings (using digital pen or real pen), and using the reverse side of the card.

If you want to use paper flashcards, then you can easily purchase a packet of index cards from the store or online, and write your own.

If you want to create your own medical flashcards and save money - and the planet - then we recommend you use a flashcard app like NoteDex which supports handwriting for drawings of anatomy, or chemistry formulas, as well as create more traditional medical terminology flashcards with text. Other apps like Anki or Quizlet don't have the best interface for drawing, but they do have other advantages like more advanced spaced repetition (Anki) or a larger range of quiz options (Quizlet). You should check all the apps out if that is interesting to you, but you won't go wrong with a good basic flashcard app like NoteDex.


NoteDex Index Card on Anatomy
Example of an anatomy flashcard with handwriting created using NoteDex


In the end, we recommend using a combination of all 3 types of available tools - pre-printed, medical app, and your own handwritten flashcards. Using all three methods will help you to cover all possible angles on learning and speed you on to acing that USMLE or other medical exam!



Flashcard Quizzes: Are They Helpful?

As people take more time studying online, more study choices are available. Many sites offer interactive anatomy quizzes as examples. This format is similar to a traditional card, but has questions and choices and can be helpful for retaining memory or tracking progress. Some online apps offer different kinds of quizzes which contain many thousands of the same questions across various subjects. The range of practice tests and quizzes is beyond the scope of this article but it is fair to say that quizzes are a good accompaniment to the standard type of flashcards and both have their place in a learning strategy. Quizlet also has a large range of community provided quizzes.


Here is an example of a quiz from the KenHub website - you can see they show two images and you need to choose the correct answer for the anatomy question.




images of skeletons
Image courtesy of KenHub


How Can I Make my Flashcards Better Quality?

You can improve the quality of your flashcards by:


  • Adding images of the human body

  • Adding text in different point sizes or using highlighting to emphasize important items.

  • Using the reverse side of the card for notes that help you understand the material, diagrams or illustrations that are not on front of card. This helps also for remembering essential concepts and hiding / using the back of card for answer

  • Using a digital pen with your phone or tablet to add drawings, sketches and illustrations of the human body

  • Adding sound recordings about certain content

  • Adding questions to use in your practice tests

  • Making connections

  • Breaking down complex topics into a series of cards



NoteDex used by Medical Students

Check out this video of NoteDex being used by a medical student at Edinburgh university!


It's a bit of an old video and much has improved in the app but you can see that she used it to study anatomy. Furthermore, there is now an improved the study tools with an improved spaced repetition study technique mode.



Conclusion

Success in medical studies relies heavily on memorization of many subjects. Flashcards are a great tool to help learn and remember. You can both create your own flashcards as well as buy ready-made anatomy flashcards or apps. While it is convenient to buy them you might want to also consider making high quality medical flashcards since the process of making cards can also be a good learning process. The best apps for this include Anki, Quizlet and our very own NoteDex. You have many great medical study learning resources available to you, we wish you the very best in your studies!



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