How to Study During Residency

Andrew Jensen, MD, MBE | Elizabeth Dennis, MD | Cory Smith, MD

August 5, 2020


When seeking advice on how to best study during residency, the saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is often aptly mentioned. While well intentioned, it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind that residency demands and let your own study needs fall by the wayside. It may seem tempting to put off annual studying until a month or so before the in-training exam, but doing so will limit many of the rich learning opportunities one can gain both in the operating room and in the clinic. The best way to combat this is to have a plan. After polling many experts in the field, we have laid out one for you below.

1Make A Schedule, And Stick To It

This will require you to consider what is a reasonable amount of time that you can dedicate each day to studying. Design a curriculum for yourself or take advantage of one of the many study resources available that do this for you. Some people suggest matching your study plan with your rotation schedule, which might involve a two-year rotation, while others design a year-long schedule that covers all subjects annually. The key is to cover all important topics and plan for repetition, so that as your fund of knowledge and expertise grow, you are able to learn more complicated and sophisticated material. Regardless of which schedule you choose – the key is in the commitment to the plan. If you get behind, don’t beat yourself up, but catch up as soon as possible. This may require a few hours on the weekend if you are free, but these small sacrifices will pay off big time in the end.

2Embrace Technology

Some study resources have convenient mobile apps that you can utilize to get in a few minutes of study time in while you wait for room turnover or during your commute to work. Additionally, there are excellent podcasts available (for free!) that you can listen to while at the gym or commuting as well. These range from study resources to dictated updates from your orthopedic journal of choice. These are a great way to stay up-to-date with current topics as well as reinforce knowledge for whatever subject you might be studying at the time. Video platforms and publications geared specifically toward surgical technique with accompanying video demonstrations are other great resources. There is a plethora of resources available to you as a resident that can show you not only expert surgical technique or radiology interpretations, but also basics like draping preferences. If you are able to watch these before a conference, a case, or even a cadaver lab, you will absorb so much more during the experience and reinforce your knowledge even further.

3Anatomy Is Paramount

Having a strong grasp of anatomy will help you learn and understand orthopedics better than anything else. Netter’s Concise Orthopedic Anatomy is a great place to start, and once that is mastered, tackle Hoppenfeld’s Surgical Exposures in Orthopedics. Supplementing these resources with videos can really help to solidify learning. 

4Questions, Questions, Questions

Once you have digested the material, a good way to assess your knowledge and fill in possible gaps in understanding is to do practice questions. Doing the questions in learning mode tends to be most efficient, but as it gets closer to exam time, it can be useful to do questions in testing mode to truly get a sense for a testing environment. Regardless of your testing method of choice, the most essential part of these practice questions is a careful and thorough review of the answers and their explanations.

5Start Early

This doesn’t just mean that you should start studying intern year or during your sub-internship. If you know you are interested in orthopedics, start with keen focus during your anatomy course and supplement with the above resources. You will never regret the time you spend learning what will be the building blocks for your career. Knowledge of anatomy will serve to make you a stronger applicant, a stronger resident and fellow, and ultimately the best physician and surgeon for the patients you care for during your entire career.

6Ask For Guidance

Your co-residents, mentors and role models have all stood in the place you stand today and will have great words of wisdom to pass along. There is not one best way but a multitude of great options and combinations for success. Don’t be afraid to ask those who have been through it for tips on what worked best for them and then tailor the advice to best fit your specific schedule and learning style. The ultimate goal is to be prepared, continue to evolve and get the most out of the vast learning experience that is your orthopedic training. Best of luck!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Dennis This individual reported nothing to disclose Dr. Jensen AAOS: Board or committee member Dr. Smith This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.


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