The Best Resources for your Med School Pre-Clinical Nephrology Years

If you’re like me, the first introduction to kidney physiology during the preclinical years of medical school can be overwhelming. Ions, transporters, RAAS; it all comes at you very fast. While lectures serve as a good starting point for framing this information, using supplemental resources can really help you hammer in the details. I have FILTERED through the resources and compiled what I think are some of the best options out there for helping you ACE your kidney physiology exams. Click the title of each resource for a link to view or purchase each one!

Before we begin, I would like to add that a lot of these resources require purchases before you are able to access their content in their entirety. I am not affiliated with any of the products or companies and am not receiving any compensation for promoting or critiquing these programs.

1.       FIRST AID for Step 1: Renal Chapter

FIRST AID (FA) is every med student’s bible. The loyal companion that is always cracked open during a study session whose pictures and mnemonics are cherished.

Everyone knows that FA is described as an encyclopedia, and therefore, is not always the best option for trying to learn and synthesize new information. I find this to be true for renal physiology.


-Images: if you’re struggling to conceptualize the nephron, or having a hard time understanding what is happening during filtration, the images in FA are some of the best. They can get cluttered with a lot of letters and arrows, so I think these images are most appreciated if you have a solid foundation of renal physiology and need a refresher.


-Lack of description: Like I mentioned, this isn’t a good resource to start learning physiology. Descriptions of ion movements, regulation, and RAAS are often abbreviated, shortened to bullet form, or just left out.

Final Recommendation: Use FA Renal Physiology after you have a solid grasp physiology. The images are really high-yield and the condensed descriptions are good for quizzing yourself.

2.       Physiology 6th Edition by Linda Costanzo

If you enjoy reading textbooks to learn information, this is the holy grail. Colloquially referred to as “Costanzo,” the authors last name, this textbook contains everything you need to know, and then some. What I really like about Costanzo for renal physiology is that she breaks up renal physiology and acid-base physiology into 2 separate chapters. The downside is that this creates A LOT of pages worth of material for you to master renal physiology.


Thorough: This book really has it all. If you ever find yourself struggling to remember one tiny detail, a quick flip through this book will jog your memory and have you on your way. Unlike FA, the images are not cluttered with arrows and words so they are really simple and easy to understand


Thorough: I’m including this as both a pro and a con. If you enjoy sitting down, cracking open a textbook, and reading until your head is pounding, then this might not be a con for you. For me, however, there are chunks of this book where there is nothing but black and white paragraph after paragraph of dense information. Reading through these chapters could take hours or even longer if you plan on annotating or making flash cards. By no means should you ignore this book, but just know what you’re getting into if you plan on reading it cover to cover

Final recommendation: If you’re struggling to find a place to start learning and synthesizing renal physiology, and you enjoy reading a textbook, this is the place to start. Overall, the images are simple and succinct, the explanations leave out no details, and it is presented in a logical order that compounds upon itself.

***Alternatively Linda Costanzo has also written “BRS (Board Review Series) Physiology” which is a more condensed version that combines Acid-Base and Renal Physiology into one chapter.

3.       Boards and Beyond Videos

I am personally a huge fan of the Boards and Beyond program and used these videos throughout med school, and for a large portion of Step 1 preparation. The videos are detailed, provide great images, and have good narration with easy to understand explanations. Much like Costanzo, it has everything you would need to learn physiology, and unlike Costanzo, it doesn’t go into extreme detail. Nephron physiology and acid-base are separated into different chapters just like Costanzo.


Thorough: I know i’m using this qualifier again, but I really think it applies here. The videos are great, provide detailed explanations alongside simple illustrations to help you synthesize everything that is going on.


Expensive: This is a real barrier that med students often face. 6 months of using these videos could cost you around $130. If your school has discount programs, or there happens to be a sale you might be able to get a good deal. There are also 1 month subscriptions if you’re only interested in a limited use.

Final recommendation: If you’re struggling to find a place to start learning and synthesizing renal physiology, and you DON’T enjoy reading a textbook, this is the place to start. While the cost can be prohibitive, I think it is worth the investment if you prefer visualizing with your learning.

4.       Ninja Nerd Science channel on Youtube.

I will preface this with the disclosure that I did not use these videos for renal physiology, but I have used his channel for other organ systems throughout my pre-clinical years. With that being said, I browsed through his channel and found an extensive selection of videos all related to renal physiology. Much like Boards and Beyond, these videos provide illustrations with narration. Unlike Boards and Beyond, these videos are free! As far as free resources go, these videos are some of the best.


Free: I don’t have a lot of experience with the renal selection of videos, but I have nothing but good things to say about all the other videos I have watched from his channel so I’m extrapolating that to this review. Plus, they are free so if you don’t think they are for you, no loss of cash!


Length: The videos can run upwards of 40 min each and there are 10 videos in the renal physiology section

Content: There doesn’t seem to be any acid-base physiology videos on his channel.

Final recommendation: If you need a place to start, don’t want to invest a lot of money, and are struggling, I suggest starting here. These free videos are detailed and have colorful, descriptive illustrations. 

5. Dr. Roberts on Vimeo

Dr. Roberts is an assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine who has posted a collection of renal physiology videos for free on Vimeo. These videos resemble a blend of Khan Academy+Boards and Beyond style of video and cover everything from Acid/Base to electrolyte disturbances and everything in between.


Free: Again, free resources are hard to pass up, especially ones that are as detailed and informative as this.

Short: Ranging from 8 minutes to 20 minutes, these videos are easy to watch and wont have you falling asleep


Speed: Unlike Youtube or a paid video software, there is no function to speed up videos to faster playback speeds unless you have some sort of browser extension installed. This is a nitpicky point as these free videos are well worth the watch.

6. Nephrology Simulator (NephSIM)

I won’t go into too much detail about this final resource but is a great resource for the wards. This website presents kidney related cases and has you walk through the process of narrowing a differential and interpreting results to help you determine the final diagnosis and next steps in management. I think this is above the level of knowledge expected during your med school pre-clinical years but keep this in mind for your inpatient rotations.

Brought to you by Ed Diaz, MS3
UNC Chapel Hill


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