Emergency Medicine Board Review for the ABEM Exam

Emergency Medicine (EM) board review probably has you feeling a little overwhelmed right about now. There are many topics on the EM boards that require equal attention. Although the strategy required to study for the boards requires focus, EM is one of the most broad topics in medicine. Finding your footing may be difficult, but the first step to success is to recognize the diagnosis hidden in each case presentation. Resist the temptation to go out and buy every book, take every course or go to every review session out there for the boards. You’re only going to confuse and overwhelm yourself. The right method involves focusing your energies on those topics that show up the most frequently on the board exams. Without that kind of concentrated focus, you’ll get lost in the haze of all the information out there.

Centering your studies will be imperative. Unlike standard medical exams in the past, the board exams tend to test on overall knowledge of a topic, rather than information regurgitation. With that in mind, it is important to focus on the American Board of Emergency Medicine’s (ABEM) clear-cut set of topics that get tested year after year.

Specifically, you will want to concentrate on how to get to the right diagnosis when doing practice questions. Coming to the right diagnosis requires two elements: pattern recognition and knowing associations. If you can take a set of symptoms, physical signs, and/or laboratory values and recognize that they represent the pattern of a particular disease, you will be ahead of the game. Knowing associations should be a somewhat familiar skill for you at this point. This concept has to do with the classic recognition of medical “buzzwords.” These are those terms that are pathognomonic for a disease and give you the clues necessary to make the proper diagnosis.

Emergency Medicine Content Outline

The following list will give you the approximate percentage of emphasis for major topics found on the EM boards. BoardVitals offers access to more than 650 Emergency Medicine questions to help you prepare for your exam. Your Emergency Medicine board review should mimic the outline of exam content, which includes the following:

Signs, Symptoms and Presentations 10%
Abdominal & Gastrointestinal Disorders 7%
Cardiovascular Disorders 10%
Cutaneous Disorders 3%
Endocrine, Metabolic & Nutritional Disorders 5%
Environmental Disorders 2%
Head, Ear, Eye, Nose & Throat Disorders 4%
Hematologic Disorders 3%
Immune System Disorders 2%
Systemic Infectious Disorders 7%
Musculoskeletal Disorders (Non-traumatic) 3%
Nervous System Disorders 6%
Obstetrics and Gynecology 3%
Psychobehavioral Disorders 2%
Renal and Urogenital Disorders 3%
Thoracic-Respiratory Disorders 7%
Toxicologic Disorders 4%
Traumatic Disorders 9%
Appendix I: Procedures & Skills 8%
Appendix II: Other Components 2%

Other topics of interest for you will include knowing all procedures and skills necessary to practice emergency medicine, including airway techniques, resuscitation, anesthesia and acute pain management, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, systems-based practice, and all normal lab values.

Practicing case studies will be useful in getting accustomed to making quick, accurate diagnoses. And remember the old adage in medicine: “When you hear hooves, think of horses.” This should further guide you. Focus on the most common diseases and disorders in each topic, and leave the “zebras” for last! Good luck!

Contributed by Andrea Paul.

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