Osmosis News

Supporting Your Students with Digital Medical Education Resources

Osmosis Team
Published on Mar 11, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Medical students are increasingly relying on third-party (commercial) education resources, both during coursework and during their dedicated board-review time. Research conducted with Osmosis partner schools in 2019 show that students, on average, use 6-10 commercial resources, costing them almost $1000 in total, to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1 exams. Data from the 2018 AAMC Year Two Questionnaire show that:

  • 67.3% of second-year medical students said they watch “online videos for medical education information” at least once a week or daily.

  • 79.8% of second-year medical students responded that they use “other online content for medical education information” at least once a week or daily.

Furthermore, many medical schools now offer commercial digital medical education resources to their students to support flipped classrooms, foster active learning and independent study (an LCME accreditation requirement), and help them succeed in coursework, clerkships, and on board exams.

The benefits of providing commercial digital medical education resources to your students and faculty

If your institution doesn’t already offer commercial resources to students, you may want to consider providing them. Why? Because they can benefit both faculty and students.

By providing these tools to students, your program can remain competitive in a rapidly changing medical education landscape. For example, New York University School of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine have set themselves apart from other institutions by offering free tuition and eliminating medical school debt for qualified students, respectively. While you may not be able to make tuition free, purchasing these tools and giving them to your students can reduce their debt burdens. 

Furthermore, if you provide students with tools that help them perform well in class, receive top scores in board exams, and go into their desired specialties by matching with their ideal residency programs, your school’s reputation will strengthen and you’ll continue to attract the best students.

There’s also evidence that giving your students the right medical education resources improves their performance. A meta-analysis of studies that examined “Internet-based learning (IBL) in health professions education” determined that “Interactivity, practice exercises, repetition, and feedback seem to be associated with improved learning outcomes” (Cook DA, Levinson AJ, Garside S, Dupras DM, Erwin PJ, Montori VM. Instructional design variations in internet-based learning for health professions education: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Acad Med. 2010;85(5):909-922.).

Faculty also have limited time and resources. If you don’t give them third-party education tools, they have to create all of their own content. Providing faculty with tools and content that they can assign to students and use during coursework eases the burden on them.

How to choose and implement medical education resources

Now that you better understand some of the benefits, you might be wondering: “How do I choose which resources to offer to my faculty and students? And, how can I make sure that faculty and/or students benefit from using them?”

To choose the right e-learning products for your school, it is important to know:

  1. What products your faculty and students are already using, and how they are using them. Why? Because if a significant number of your faculty and students already use a product, then other faculty and students will be more likely to adopt it.

  2. The plan your school (or you) will have for implementing and using a particular product. Why? With a thoughtful implementation plan, you can more easily drive adoption among faculty, administrators, and students. Without one, you may have difficulty getting resistant colleagues and students on board with your plan. Osmosis partners with schools to understand the problems they’re looking to solve, collaborates to identify the use case(s) that will add the most value, and develops a plan for implementation and user onboarding to ensure students and faculty meet their goals while having enjoyable and effective learning experiences.

  3. The process and metrics your institution will use to evaluate a tool’s usefulness and measure its return on investment (ROI). Why? If you purchase or trial a product, you need to have a plan to determine if it justified the investment. Otherwise, you might stop using beneficial products because you had no clear definition of success, or continue paying for products that aren’t meeting your needs because you had no clear definition of failure.

While you can’t know for certain if a particular product will provide value to your institution before you start using it, there are strategies you can employ to find out its potential benefits, refine its implementation, and build acceptance among potentially skeptical faculty or students. These strategies include:

  • Piloting a digital medical education product in one course or a handful of courses before rolling it out system-wide.

  • Partnering with a product’s parent company to systematically evaluate its use and effectiveness to make data-informed decisions.

  • Connecting with institutions that use the product to discuss what worked well or did not work well during implementation to learn from their experiences.

A list of third-party medical education resources

If you’re ready to consider medical education resources for your students, keep in mind that many different tools exist. With the proliferation of commercial digital medical education resources in medical education—from comprehensive visual learning resources to dedicated board prep products and even digital library collections—the market is large. We know that finding a product to meet your specific needs can feel complicated and overwhelming.

That’s why, to help you choose the best resources for your needs, we’ve compiled a list of commonly used e-learning products among medical schools. We’ve organized this list of medical education tools into the categories below, along with indications for their use in the medical education context:

  • Comprehensive curricular support and board preparation. A comprehensive visual learning, board prep, and study resource incorporates different elements from each of the other categories below—such as flashcards, board-style practice questions, engaging video content, and a study schedule tool—to create a complete teaching and learning platform for longitudinal use by faculty and students.

  • Test prep and board review resources. These include board-style questions and other practice items, often in a simulated testing interface, to prepare students for board exams and course/clerkship exams.

  • Mnemonic study tools. These feature mnemonic-based content designed to improve students’ memory retention and retrieval, and are a good supplement for courses with high factual knowledge that students need to memorize and retain (such as pharmacology and microbiology).

  • Study schedule tools. These resources create personalized study schedules for medical students based on the board (or course) exam they are taking and how much time they have until they take it. They are especially useful for students who want to create accountability and manage their time, as well as for at-risk students who might benefit from a prescriptive study plan.

Read on to learn about the most popular medical education resources and find the right one(s) for your program.

Comprehensive curricular support and board prep


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD, DO, PA, NP, and RN students

Overview: Osmosis is a visual learning platform rooted in learning science that supports medical students in the classroom and outside of it. The platform gives students and faculty access to 1,500+ videos, 16,000+ flashcards, 7,000+ USMLE and COMLEX-USA board-style questions, 2,000+ High-Yield Notes on physiology and pathology, and comprehensive study schedules for the USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX-USA Level 1 exams.

Medical schools including the University of Vermont, University of Michigan, UCLA, and the University of Arizona purchase Osmosis for their faculty and students because it supports flipped classrooms, amplifies and clarifies what students learn, includes reporting tools that allow faculty to spot students’ learning gaps, and seeks to bring faculty and students back together.


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD and DO students

Overview: OnlineMedEd gives students video lectures, practice questions, flashcards, 400+ pages of notes, and cases to help them perform well on their board exams and succeed in medical school and residency.


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD students

Overview: Amboss helps students prepare for class and board exams by combining an in-depth question bank with a library of high-yield learning cards. The company also provides students with videos to prepare them for case-based questions.

Mnemonic study tools


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD and DO students

Overview: Picmonic’s picture mnemonic study aid platform combines unforgettable characters with concise, customizable videos and low stakes quizzing to improve students’ performance in class and on board exams.


Offers support for educators? No

Supports: MD students

Overview: SketchyMedical is a mnemonic study resource that prepares medical students for success in class and on the USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 exams. Its SketchyUltimate Lv.1 course has 350+ sketches, 350+ videos, and 1,200+ quiz questions while its SketchyUltimate Lv.2 course includes 170+ videos and 170+ review cards.

Test prep and board review resources

Kaplan Test Prep

Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD, DO, PA, RN, PharmD, DDS, EMT, CPhT, pre-medical, and pre-nursing students

Overview: Kaplan creates test prep solutions that focus on USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK, Step 2 CS, Step 3, and other health professions licensing exams. Its USMLE board prep resources include question banks and an extensive library of voice-over-Powerpoint style videos.


Offers support for educators? No

Supports: MD students

Overview: USMLE World provides medical students with comprehensive question banks that prepare them for USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, USMLE Step 2 CS, and USMLE Step 3. It doesn’t have a dedicated product for educators; but, it does give discounts to institutions that purchase licenses in bulk for their students.


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD and DO students

Overview: Firecracker is a medical education resource that has thousands of flashcards and board prep questions for medical students. It also has topic summaries and practice exams.


Offers support for educators? No

Supports: MD students

Overview: Pathoma focuses exclusively on pathology subject matter and supplies students with a textbook and 35+ hours of video content on this subject.

Boards and Beyond

Offers support for educators? No

Supports: MD students

Overview: Boards and Beyond is a USMLE Step 1 prep product that gives students 447 videos focused on Step 1 material, 2,300 USMLE-style questions, and a quiz builder.


Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD students

Overview: USMLE-Rx offers in-depth videos, flashcards, and board-style questions to help medical students prepare for Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Study schedule tools

Cram Fighter

Offers support for educators? Yes

Supports: MD, DO, and pre-med students

Overview: Cram Fighter builds detailed, customized study plans for MD, DO, and pre-med students. After building this plan, it gives students daily study tasks so they can prepare over time for USMLE, COMLEX-USA, or MCAT exams.


Do you have questions about Osmosis or any of the other medical education resources in this article? Please contact us at [email protected] and we will be happy to answer them.

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