For Educators

How and Why Medical Students Are Using Resources Like Sketchy

Physicians are a community in constant pursuit of advancing knowledge, and clinicians rely on multiple sources of information to provide the best care possible. We should encourage a similar approach to medical education to ensure students graduate with the best knowledge possible.

Introduction: Medical Students and Third Party Resources

In the not-so-distant past, medical students relied on lecture materials, lecture notes and…textbooks. Whereas these textbooks were considered “required reading,” they were, in a way, the first iteration of a “third party” resource – information outside of material provided in medical school that was used to reinforce concepts, give additional information, or present the learner with material in a different way. 

We have come a long way since then, and now medical students have a vast array of third-party resources to choose from. Why do they use them? Which are used? How can educators and schools use this information to help ensure their students are not only getting the best education possible, but also reinforcing and supplementing that learning? This has been investigated in a recent study1, published in JAMA Network Open, which holds many insights.

Is Third Party Resource Use Common Among Today's Medical Students?

Yes! The study comments on previous survey data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) – that approximately 70% of students used videos from outside their institution. Other studies have shown that students commonly use online lectures and outside resources to study for Step 1.

What Did the Study Investigate?

The study asked focus groups of medical students which resources were used (including Sketchy, but also many others), why they were used, and feedback on materials. In addition, medical students were asked what they thought their schools should know about third party resources.

What Did They Find Out From These Medical Students?

Third and fourth year medical students were an important source of information for preclinical students (no surprise!). Students also asked peers from other schools to help pick the best third-party resources. This part of medical student lore has not changed – find out from others “what you need to know.” Those of us who have gone through medical school know the importance of looking up to others who have had the experience and succeeded (and sometimes knocked it out of the park). “If it worked for them, it might work for me!”

Notably, however, there is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation for these resources. Medical students should have adaptability with any learning strategy – seeing if the resource works for them. For example, question banks might be crucial for some students throughout their studies, while for others they might be a narrow resource used only in the weeks before board exams. And medical educators know that the way medical students learn changes as a year progresses, even from course-to-course or from one topic to another.

Medical students in the study chose outside resources depending on what was being taught in their medical school, how the primary material was delivered, and whether the curriculum was pass/fail. Some content required them to use outside resources. Some of the features sought in supplemental content were memory devices and more-concise presentations of long-form lecture or textbook content. Some students completely scrapped what their med school was teaching them and only used materials outside of what was provided by their institution.

When Do Medical Students Use Outside Resources? 

If they have time, medical students take advantage of it. Time is precious as a medical student, and optimization of that study time is always necessary. Students even used these third-party resources while walking to class, and during class time.

What Can Medical Educators Glean From This?

Medical students in the study believed that the volume of material provided by their schools was too much. They did not know what information to focus on for standardized tests. Some reported their schools discouraged use of these third-party resources despite this being standard practice for the majority of medical students today. 

Importantly, students wish schools would recognize that these resources are valuable, and that integrating them would be helpful. They wanted schools to recommend which resources they should use, and even use some of them in place of their own lectures in order to focus more on applied knowledge. 

The bottom line is that these third-party resources are not going away. Like other advances in technology, medicine and education, the med ed community should embrace the change and see how to improve student understanding and retention of material by the use of whatever means necessary. 

Physicians are a community in constant pursuit of advancing knowledge, and clinicians rely on multiple sources of information to provide the best care possible. We should encourage a similar approach to medical education to ensure students graduate with the best knowledge possible. 

  • Seth Politano, DO, Vice Chair and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences

Interested in exploring ways to use Sketchy with your students? Book a meeting today.


  • Lawrence E, Dine J & Kogan J. Preclerkship Medical Students Use of Third Party Learning Resources. JAMA Network Open. 2023;6(12)::e2345971

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