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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 21, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 38
One Book, Dozens of Docs

Physicians Bimal Ashar, Redonda Miller and Stephen Sisson spent three years blending together colleagues' know-how to produce 'The Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review,' a comprehensive work for certification and recertification.

Internal medicine study guide distills knowledge from 71 faculty experts

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Want a recipe for publishing success? Take 71 Johns Hopkins physicians. Extract knowledge. Stir, and then serve to the thousands looking to certify or recertify in internal medicine.

Such is the tale of the dozens of School of Medicine faculty who contributed to The Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review book (Mosby, $94.95), published this year and poised to be a big seller.

The weighty text, accompanied by a CD-ROM, is touted as a comprehensive, user-friendly study guide that summarizes all the information that readers are most likely to encounter on the rigorous exam portion of the internal medicine board certification. The guide covers internal medicine A to Z, including everything from diabetes and hypertension to ethics and bioterrorism. It also contains a section on effective study and test-taking strategies, debunking, for example, the axiom of sticking with your first answer--studies have borne out that going back and changing your answer is, in fact, the right thing to do.

Redonda Miller, an assistant professor of medicine and one of the book's three editors, says that the concept for the project arose out of the now seven-year-old Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review course and the growing need for study guides. Today, not only do those finishing their residency need to obtain certification, but every 10 years physicians in all of internal medicine's subspecialties have to recertify, too.

"We saw that the market clearly has expanded for study guides," Miller says. "Now you have not only the young resident physicians needing review books but physicians in practice who, to be honest, need them even more, because they don't do every aspect of medicine every day. Nowadays, you're either an outpatient doc, or cardiologist or other specialist, and you have to know all of internal medicine again."

Review books put out by the Mayo Clinic and Emory University currently dominate the market, Miller says. She adds, however, that many of the books out there are "densely written" and not user-friendly enough. Thus, instead of pages of uninterrupted text, The Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review book intermingles boiled-down summaries, bulleted notes, illustrations and case-style study questions.

"What we thought was helpful to our learners was algorithms and charts and tables, and putting information in a format that is easily usable," she says. "Plus, lots and lots of practice questions."

The book provides answers to all the included questions, coupled with an explanation of why those answers are correct. It also includes an eight-page full-color dermatology insert and many other color photos. The CD-ROM contains more than 300 practice questions and timed exams that simulate a test experience.

Miller says she and her fellow editors, Bimal Ashar and Stephen Sisson, both assistant professors of medicine, looked for the physicians best known in their particular field.

How difficult was it to coordinate 71 faculty members? "Tricky," Miller says.

"But the contributors were great," she says. "They all did this for very little pay. It took a bit longer than we originally planned, but we have no complaints. We are all very proud of it."

As part of the process, each editor experienced a crash refresher course in medicine facts and figures outside their respective fields. Ashar says that knowledge has already paid dividends.

"I knew Redonda, for example, had reviewed certain chapters, like cardiology. So, if I had a patient question, I would ask her about one of the chapters she reviewed because I knew she knew the information," he says. "Plus, we have to recertify as well some day. I can tell you it's been a big help to us."

Miller, Ashar and Sisson divided up the sections and worked on the book in their spare time, typically 6 p.m. to midnight, for nearly three years.

Ashar agrees with Miller that the labor of love turned out well worth the effort.

"I think it's as good if not better than intended. This is something I don't say very often, but this is something I'm very proud of," Ashar says. "It's a very thorough work, and it provides the knowledge that residents and internal medicine recertifiers will need to know."

Miller says that several medical residents have come up to her on the East Baltimore campus to tell her "your book is great."

The internal medicine certification exam is taken in August and the recertification test in November, making June and July the peak time for review-book sales. The editors are confident the book will rocket up the sales rank, but Miller says the group has no plans for any immediate milestone parties.

"We'll celebrate when we beat Mayo," Miller says with a laugh. "They have 12 years on us, publishingwise, but we're gaining."


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