Responding to a new generation of proprietary study resources in medical education

Robin O’Hanlon, Gregory Laynor


Traditionally, health sciences libraries have supported patrons who are preparing for medical licensure examinations by collecting and making accessible board exam preparation resources, such as questions banks and study guides. However, when online board exam preparation resources are not available for licensing, providing equitable access to all library users can be a challenge. In recent years, a new generation of online study resources has emerged. Sites such as SketchyMedical and Picmonic use visual learning mnemonics, while resources such as Quizlet leverage crowd-sourcing to generate study content. While some of the content from these resources is made freely available, these resources are often limited to paid individual subscribers. This new generation of study resources, thus, presents a conundrum for health sciences librarians. On the one hand, these innovative resources offer new insights into how students learn and study, reflecting pedagogical trends in self-directed learning. On the other hand, the proprietary individual subscription-based model of these resources can widen the achievement gap between students who can afford to pay subscription costs and those who cannot. This commentary provides an overview of some of the most popular medical board examination preparation resources that have emerged in recent years. The authors suggest that health sciences librarians collaborate with medical students and educators to better understand and evaluate these resources.


Medical Education; Exam Preparation; Medical Student Study Habits; Resident Study Habits; Self-Directed Learning; USMLE; NCLEX; Proprietary Study Resources; Study Resources; SketchyMedical; Picmonic; Visual Learning

Full Text:



Gamlin R. Build or buy? curricular design and external basic sciences learning resources. Acad Med. 2017 Apr;92(4):430. DOI:

Lujan HL, Dicarlo SE. First-year medical students prefer multiple learning styles. Adv Physiol Educ. 2006 Mar;30(1):13–6. DOI:

Association of College and Research Libraries. Framework for information literacy for higher education [Internet]. The Association [rev. 11 Jan 2016; cited 3 Oct 2018]. .

Charlotte Edwards Maguire Medical Library, Florida State University College of Medicine. Textbooks & more: support materials [Internet]. The Library [rev 8 Aug 2018; cited 3 Oct 2018]. .



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 Robin O'Hanlon, Gregory Laynor

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.