Microbiology is typically one of the hardest courses in medical school. There are dozens of drugs to learn and hundreds of bugs, along with lots of molecular details, lab tests, and host-pathogen interactions. At least at my medical school, it was on par with—if not harder than—anatomy. That said, it’s a rewarding course that pays dividends for the boards (it’s high-yield), and—more importantly—lays down foundational knowledge for all fields of medicine.
The human mind is a pisspoor tool for memorizing lists of facts. On the other hand, it is unbelievably good at taking in visual details laid out in a scene, and is excellent at remembering engaging stories. While older microbiology texts lay out the information in lists of facts, newer resources take advantage of the powers of human memory to grok information from visuals and stories. I’m going to cover three microbiology resources that reflect this approach, and I highly recommend that you use them.
- In microbiology, one of the first books to take the more modern approach was Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple. This book is the absolute best of this generally good series. It uses stupid mnemonics, dumb jokes, and unforgettable cartoons to break down what you need to know. Although it’s dated, it’s still one of the best books you can buy to supplement your medical school education. Bread-and-butter microbiology hasn’t exactly changed all that much since it was written, and the authors have done a good job updating it with new editions to reflect the changing state of clinical knowledge.
- Did you enjoy playing Pokémon growing up? Microbe Invader is just what the doctor ordered. This online game lets you stock on antibiotics, diagnose infections in patients with funny names, then battle the bacteria, viruses, and fungi! By putting you in charge (and using memorable—though outdated—graphics), Microbe Invader makes microbiology much more memorable and engaging than book learning alone. I played Microbe Invader during study breaks, looking up diagnostic tests and antibiotic susceptibilities as needed and taking a few notes to help me learn the forgettable ones. I found I got more out of the game as the course went on.
- The most modern of the three, Sketchy Micro, brings the material to life with vivid images replete with memorable recurring symbols and dumb mnemonics. Like the age-old “memory palace” technique, Sketchy Micro organizes the information into clear symbols that pop up one-at-a time in memorable scenes. Dumb jokes keep it lighthearted and reasonably entertaining. The 5- to 15-minute video length (with the option to play them back at increased speed) packages the information into tasty morsels. Personally, I only used Sketchy Micro when it was time to study for the boards, but many of my classmates used it during the course and found it very helpful.Sketchy Micro is now part of the larger Sketchy Medical collection, which also includes Sketchy Pharm and Sketchy Path. I found Sketchy Micro more helpful than Pharm, though. The Pharm videos often get quite long and the symbolism is necessarily more convoluted, but they often explain organ physiology quite well (e.g., the nephron) and tie in the pharm. I haven’t tried Sketchy Path as I’m an old man and these videos emerged after my time in preclinical med school, though it may be worth checking out. Path is already quite saturated, however, with excellent contributions from Drs. Goljan and Sattar (Pathoma). Though these courses are relatively expensive, they are certainly worth it for the boards and may make a sensible investment during the course as well.
Despite the large volume of information, if you start early and study Clinical Micro MRS and Sketchy Micro hard and crush Microbe Invader on the side, you will be in a good position to slay the test. Further, you will set yourself up for a strong performance on the boards and you will serve your future patients well.