Saturday, June 2, 2012

iPad Apps for Med School

I'll keep it simple:

I will use an iPad for medical school.
My iPad has awesome apps.
iPad + Awesome Apps = Greatness.


The Skeleton System Pro III is hands down the best app you could possibly hope for for learning the human bones. It's packed with amazing views, descriptions and explanations, audio pronunciations, videos of different movements, and interactive quizzes. One of the features that I think will be most helpful is the quiz, where you define a region that you want to be quizzed on and all the other parameters, and it gives you thirty seconds to identify several pinned structures by dragging the appropriate bubble to the pin. This is one of the parts of med school that makes me the most... Ill-at-ease. Apparently, they're fairly intense, and it's set up like this - about a million stations, and you have 30 seconds at each station to identify the pins in the cadavers. When the bell dings, you move on. Seems like it might be good to practice, and this way I'll be able to get a little in even when I'm not in the lab.

Aside from the quiz functionality, the app literally lets you pinch and zoom to get any view of any bone from any angle you want. You can set your own pins, or turn on the app's pins, hiding or showing any you please. Not sure how to pronounce a word? Tap the pin, and the app will say it for you in a crisp, clear, human-recorded voice. You can drag your finger vertically or horizontally to slice and view a cross-section of certain regions where it might be beneficial (skull, pelvis, etc.). It's a lot of fun to play around with, too. Can't wait to have it as a resource when all I want is to see some specific, minor detail... While $14.99 is a little pricey for an iPad app, it's totally understandable considering the amount of time, research, and professional programming went into the creation of this app. Here are some screenshots to give you a feel for the app.


The Muscle System Pro III is everything that The Skeletal System Pro III is, but for muscles. Whenever I thought about learning human anatomy, the first thing that popped into my mind was all the bones. What I never realized before auditing an anatomy course this past semester was just how many more muscles we have than bones. As hard as it is to memorize all the bones, it's far more difficult to learn the muscles because usually the bones are not layered in three dimensions, yet the muscles are - and oftentimes multple layers deep. This app makes it much easier to visualize the relative locations of layered muscles because it allows you to remove or add layers as you wish. You can even combine layers of muscles, so that if you're constantly switching between deep and superficial layers, it's easier. The pinning and quizzing processes are the same as previously described for the Skeletal app, and will be really helpful this fall. Again, the $19.99 asking price is higher than most apps, but the added complexity of creating a comprehensive app depicting every human muscle in three dimensions more than justifies the price. I would have paid $50.00 for this app, easily. Check out the screenshots below to get a feel for the app, but keep in mind that these are all static images. The app animates to help you understand where the muscles are, how they're oriented, movements, etc.


Medscape does an awesome job of presenting breaking medical news and studies. It's a free app that requires users to create a free account, as many articles are not available without login access. My guess is, this is mostly used for keeping tabs on who and how many people read various articles. Aside from being incredibly interesting and informative, this is a good option for premeds who are looking for solid ways of staying up on recent medical news in preparation for interviews.

Medscape also features a drug interaction tracker and reference look-up for drugs, diseases and conditions, and procedures and protocols. This last has been one of the most interesting features for me. It allows you to look up a procedure based on the field of medicine, then the body region of interest. It offers thousands of images and videos exclusively available to Medscape users. I was able to watch a video of an ingrown toenail removal with descriptions on everything from anesthesia to the tools needed to the technique used. This is just one small example of what this free app contains. Check out the screenshots below.


I love Dropbox. For those of you that don't know what it is, it's a free cloud-based service that allows you to set up a folder on your computer to be mirrored on Dropbox's servers. It's also a free app for most mobile devices. This means that when you change or add a file to the linked folder on your computer, that change instantaneously happens on the cloud and all your mobile devices. Conversely, if you add a photo or document from your iPad to your dropbox app, it's immediately available on your computer. Period. No hassle, no cords - you don't even need to be on the same network.

I use Dropbox by creating a separate folder for each class within my Dropbox folder. I use it to store presentation PDFs, to backup my lecture notes, and to transfer screenshots from my iPhone and iPad to my computer. In fact, all of the app screenshots that you're seeing were transferred to my computer from my iPad using Dropbox. It also does a great job of allowing you to view a wide variety of file types, including all image formats, all standard Microsoft Office and Apple doc formats, and most video and audio formats.

One of the best features of Dropbox is how easy it makes it to share things with friends. Gone are the days when you had to email files, clogging up multiple inboxes multiple times with each iteration of a presentation or document. Using Dropbox, you can simply select to copy a public link to the clipboard. Email this link to a friend, and they have instant access to the file. You can choose whether or not to let them be a collaborator, or simply download / view the file.

Dropbox starts off with 2GB of free space, but for each person that you invite who starts a Dropbox account you get an additional 500MB of free space. The person you invited will also get an extra 500MB for starting via invitation, giving them 2.5GB right off the bat. You can get up to 8GB of free space using Dropbox. If you want more, I think it's something like $10.00 per year for a total of 15GB, but don't quote me on that... If you're a student with an iPad, there's no good reason to not be using Dropbox. As for screenshots - it's a pretty straightforward app, and I don't feel like showing all my files, and the app page linked above does a fine job of showing the general layout...


Notes Plus is, in my opinion as an official beta tester, hands down the best annotation and digital note taking application available for the iPad. Totally worth the $7.99 asking price. I've mentioned it before, but since about 75% of my daily readers are new (thanks to the 25% of you that keep coming back, by the way!), I'll give a basic description.

Originally it was programmed like all the other note taking apps - though not very well, using traditional inking that blurred out as you zoomed in and plagued with crashes and lost data. Since then, it has been rewritten from the ground up to make a new app. I've had zero crashes and no lost data, and it is the first to use vector graphics for translating strokes, resulting in perfectly smooth lines no matter how much you zoom in. "Vector graphics" also means this is preserved when you export your notes in PDF format. Notes Plus also backs up automatically to Dropbox (mentioned above) as you go, so if you lose your iPad (or someone steals it!) when you link to your new iPad, all your notes automatically redownload to the app. PDF annotation has been perfected. Viet Tran, the developer, is an awesome guy based in Wisconsin who listens intently to feedback from beta testers and users alike, quickly implementing necessary changes. I wrote a detailed review previously, so rather than rewrite everything and create new screenshots I'll just link to it here.

How will I use Notes Plus for medical school? At MSU CHM (and many other schools), they provide students with a "coursepack," both in electronic and printed formats. My understanding is that at CHM, it's basically everything that the professors will be going through in lectures - both the actual lecture presentations and auxiliary information. In PDF form, these will be easy to import into Notes Plus for annotation during lectures. Even if you don't annotate using Notes Plus, just having the coursepack in Dropbox means I can instantly access any lecture slide or article from wherever I am. When I compare this to having to carry around a 4-inch-thick three-ring binder that takes forever to search through, I get that much more eager to be actively implementing this come the fall.


Mental Case is probably one of the top five most versatile and useful apps I have. I'm a big believer in flashcards for rote learning. While I like learning from books and notes, that's not always the most effective way to learn material. A lot of learning the science that allows us to become doctors is rote memorization. Structures, definitions, names of processes, steps, functions, groups - oftentimes, flashcards are the best way to go about learning these. However, it can be a huge pain to make and keep track of paper flashcards. If you have 600 cards that you need to know for the next exam, just keeping them organized enough to effectively study them can be problematic.

Enter Mental Case - a perfectly designed app for creating, organizing, storing, and studying digital flashcards. I wrote up an old post showing how I studied for the MCAT using this software, which pretty much turned into a review of it. It has a bunch of screenshots to check out, so feel free to take a peek. I also offer all the flashcards that I created while studying for the MCAT on My Store.


Popplet Lite is the best free app I've found for creating flowcharts on an iPad. While I haven't yet taken any pathology classes, I've heard that flowcharts can be a saving grace. Popplet Lite allows you to include pictures into flowcharts, as well as format each bubble and export everything to PDF or JPEG files. The full version of Popplet is $4.99. With the free version, the app has all the same features but only lets you make one flowchart at a time. We'll see if I feel like I need to upgrade once fall rolls around... Check out the screenshots below.


Shawna McCafferty said...

Thanks for this! I'm looking forward to integrating theses tools into my study plans. Do you plan on adding a biology MCAT mental case pack?

Justin said...

Most definitely! It kind of got put on the back burner for a bit, but I assure you it's in the works. Glad you found this useful!

Anonymous said...

Surely a perfect piece of writing! We've book marked it and sent it out to all of my friends since I know they'll be intrigued, thank you very much!

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