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A New Guide to Success

Medical student creates comic book survival guide to aid peers

Full color cover of a comic book and two black and white screen captures from a medical student's comic book study guide.
Medical Student Noah Choi created a comic book survival guide offering tips and suggestions for students who are preparing to take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1, a standardized test taken by all medical students.

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Studying methods. Everyone has a different theory on what works best. Just as each student’s educational journey is different, the ways we learn and retain information varies as well. No matter how we learn best, one thing we all have in common is the need for a strategy. University of California San Diego School of Medicine student Noah Choi came up with a fun and creative strategy which he hopes can be effective for helping his peers as they prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1.

“I definitely don't know everything, and I don't want anything that I print to be taken that way at all,” said Choi. “I really try to hone in on the fact that everything in this guide is a suggestion. None of it is law. It is just another resource.”

The guide that Choi refers to is a comic book he created, called The UC San Diego 2023 Step 1 Survival Guide.

USMLE Step 1 is an eight-hour test that has a reputation for being notoriously difficult. The test marks the culmination of the second year of medical school by testing students’ mastery of the basic scientific fundamentals required to practice medicine safely and competently.

“Honestly, I’ve loved comics for as long as I can remember,” said Choi, a rising fourth-year medical student. “When I was around 5 years old, I started reading Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and just immediately fell in love with the medium.”

Initially, that love for comics, which Choi describes as unique storytelling which can’t be replicated entirely by film or novel, resonated with him so much that in middle school he considered becoming a comic book artist professionally.

“The thing is though, I never really gave myself the time to practice or actually improve in my art,” said Choi. “Ironically, it was medical school that allowed me to reconnect with comics.”

Most people would not equate medical school with comic books, but for Choi, the intersection between medicine and art is clear.

Medical Student Noah Choi is shown smiling holding a copy of the comic book he created.
Medical student Noah Choi holding a copy of the USMLE Step 1 Survival Guide comic book that he created. 

“I feel that there are two types of careers that are always going to be needed by humanity, physicians and artists,” said Choi. “We kind of lose something important without either of those.”

Time to study

At the conclusion of the second year of medical school, students are afforded several weeks off from classroom learning to study for the Step 1 test. A recent change to pass/fail has impacted the way that students prepare for and think about the exam.

“Because my class is one of the first ones to ever take it in a pass/fail format, we were kind of lost,” Choi explained. “When an exam changes like that, you have to figure out what to prioritize. I was studying with my friends and a lot of our time was spent just figuring out what resources to use, what books to read and when to start studying. That was a lot of busy work that could have been better spent actually studying.”

The realization led Choi to create the comic book, which he describes as a guide to a better way of studying. By streamlining the study preparation process and explaining which resources he found most useful, he is optimistic that the guide can help students feel more confident before taking the test.

“It's been a really rewarding process (to hear from students who’ve used the guide),” said Choi. “Realizing how many people have really been using it, I am grateful to have been a part of this process for them.”

Resources, timelines and encouragement

The comic book is a fully illustrated resource of how to prep for the test, how to take the test and hints from those who have experienced the test. While he was prepping, Choi took copious notes regarding strategies that worked for him and his friends with the intention of passing that information along to the next class.

“There is no reason why knowledge and discovery shouldn't be passed down,” said Choi. “I really hope that the class below me takes this to heart and continues this trend of making sure that every next class has it a little bit better than we've had it because that's the only way things get better.”

View the entire comic book here (PDF).

Listen in as Noah Choi, rising fourth-year medical student, talks about the USMLE Step 1 Survival Guide comic book that he created. 

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