Eureka? A book review of a brand-new series of medical textbooks

Eureka is a series of textbooks freshly published in 2015 that claims to be specially designed for the modern-day medical student, relevant across all of his or her years of study. Consider this proposition within the context of today’s educational environment, which is populated by universally accessible handouts, online multimedia resources, eBooks, and collaborative Web 2.0 platforms such as ‘Meducation’, ‘MosaicED’, ‘GeekyMedics’, ‘Instant Anatomy’ and ‘TeachMeAnatomy’. With information available and openly accessible, is there an important role marked out for the textbook, and if so, how does Eureka fare as a supplement?

In a textbook, the medical student seeks guidance, companionship, essential content, and clarity of concept.

The discipline of medicine is of long tradition and application, and for this reason, learning and teaching will necessarily drive much of our activity as healthcare professionals. Whilst we appreciate that these are lifelong processes, there is a certain corpus of biomedical knowledge that must be mastered by the medical student before he or she is deemed competent to practice safely on patients. For many of us, it can be difficult to ascertain where to begin in this learning process.

The textbook fills this gap by providing relevant information for immediate reference; a reader need not seek information in a piecemeal manner. Typically, textbooks are divided by scientific discipline; we use the stalwarts Grey’s for Anatomy, Kumar & Clark’s for Clinical Medicine, or Rang & Dale’s for Pharmacology. This canon drips in extraneous detail, and does not directly complement the medical curriculum we are examined for.

Eureka‘s title is immediately captivating, as it appears to imply a solution. Speaking from the viewpoint of pure aesthetics, its covers are simple, elegant and non-distracting; the corners of its pages are beautifully curved; the books themselves are light and easily portable. The books are not overly hefty! As medical students, we have become used to toting around heavy textbooks to the detriment of our backs. The fact that these books are not unnecessarily large or heavy is definitely a bonus, but the question needs to be asked – is the content sufficient, or compromised? 

Each book integrates a system’s core biomedical science with its clinical
– medical and surgical – applications. These books are complementary of the tendency of medical teaching towards a ‘systems-based approach’.

  • What precisely does this ‘integration’ entail? Each book is divided into a set of chapters, which invariably include ‘First principles’ and ‘Clinical essentials’, that cover the anatomy, embryology, and physiology of the system in question, as well as the principles of clinical examination, investigation, the observation of basic signs and their clinical correlates. For ‘Cardiovascular Medicine’, for example, this would entail the structure and function of the heart, the cardiac myocyte and its electrophysiology, cardiac embryology, the arterial supply to the body, and cardiac physiology. This would be followed by examination and interpretation of cardiovascular signs, interpretation of the ECG and the echocardiogram, the cardiac MRI and angiography, amongst the interpretation of results from other modalities. The books do not provide a step-by-step guide to clinical work, but certainly, a more than adequate starting point to its theoretical basis.
  • In this sense, the first chapters cover what one might typically consider the ‘preclinical’ necessities, and do so in sufficient detail, which is an impressive achievement for one volume. The graphics and illustrations are clearly drawn, and these are interspersed with images of radiographs, gross pathology, and clinical photographs, where relevant. It must be noted that the anatomy is not covered in the depth, or captured through the multiple viewpoints and layers, a book such as Gray’s Anatomy would – but then, Eureka does not brand itself as a specialist’s handbook. In a similar vein, it would be foolish to expect annotated histological specimens, or diagrams detailing the specifics of molecular biology. Ultimately, this is not a book designed for the surgeon, pathologist, or molecular biologist, but for the medical student, for whom it is incredibly useful, both clinically and otherwise.
  • In this sense, the first chapters cover what one might typically consider the ‘preclinical’ necessities, and do so in sufficient detail, which is an impressive feat. A book like Gray’s Anatomy can often overwhelm students with technical terms and heavy content. The ‘first principles’ section of the Eureka series assumes that the student most likely already has knowledge of the subject, and its main purpose is to consolidate and summarise that knowledge. It does not go into substantial amounts of detail for anatomy and physiology, but it is a good level of information for a medical student with some prior learning in the area. Particularly for students in clinical years, it is a good refresher of information that may have been learned several years ago. In this respect, the first principles section is an excellent summary of the topic.

The initial storytelling is succeeded by several chapters detailing the most common pathology, where the standard of clear, smooth-flowing, writing, is upheld. These entail the epidemiology, aetiology, pathogenesis, clinical features, diagnostic approach, and medical and surgical management, for a broad range of commonly encountered conditions – as well as a chapter dedicated to emergencies. A public health approach is integrated; for instance, the diagnosis of respiratory disease is intimately linked with a patient’s occupational history, and this is both appreciated and expounded upon in ‘Respiratory Medicine’. Pharmacological interventions are also covered, if not to a depth where their molecular mechanisms are elucidated. Clinical cases are routinely incorporated, and sometimes through realistic ‘graphic narratives’, which are enjoyable to trace. Each chapter is prefaced by a number of thought-provoking questions, that if paid attention to, prompt the reader to actively seek answers – such as ‘What investigations are useful for someone presenting with chronic dyspnoea?’ or ‘What factors determine the surgical approach in a woman shown to have breast cancer?’

As everything from presentation, epidemiology, aetiology, clinical signs, diagnostics and imaging are discussed, this is particularly useful for medical students who feel lost when applying knowledge to a clinical case. By presenting common cases and clearly laying out the steps one would need to take, the information is very approachable and understandable. Boxes are also used to highlight important information, and diagrams are clear and easy to follow. While knowing basic scientific knowledge is certainly important, without an understanding of how it applies to clinical scenarios, it is almost irrelevant! In this manner, the Eureka series does a wonderful job of demonstrating clinical applicability.

The series is edited by Janine Henderson, David Oliviera, and Stephen Parker, who are consultants and teachers in their respective fields and institutions, with two of the authors marking out their personal interests in medical education methods. Each textbook is written and edited by three or four consultants on their respective field, individuals who have invariably had research and teaching experience. This is reflected in the writing, which never confuses, obfuscates, or leaves loose ends for the reader – parentheses are often used to enclose or define technical terminology.

To recap, it would be correct to point out that the systems do not operate in isolation, and certainly, this nuance is appreciated in each textbook – which covers each system holistically. As medical courses in Britain are typically separated into systems-based ‘blocks’, I would highly recommend Eureka‘s textbooks as referential and revision resources for those who consider a portable, efficient, and all-inclusive guide a worthwhile investment. While the Eureka books are a new and emerging series on the market, they definitely prove their worth. The ability to condense information into a relatively small book while still retaining essential content is not an easy feat. Extensive clinical relevance is another great aspect of the books. In short, we would highly recommend the series for medical students looking for a way to consolidate their knowledge in a straightforward manner.

The series, at present, is available at www.eurekamedicine.co.uk. We are very happy to offer a discount code (MED15) for the books when ordered for the website, which will entitle readers to a 15% discount plus free delivery. The offer is available until 31.12.15. All are priced at £22.95 each; with the discount they are £19.50 each. The following titles are currently available:

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry & Metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Respiratory Medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • General Surgery & Urology

The following titles will be available from the specified dates:

  • Neurology & Neurosurgery (September 2015)
  • Psychiatry (September 2015)
  • Obstetrics & Gynaecology (January 2016)
  • Gastrointestinal Medicine (January 2016)
  • Renal Medicine (January 2016)
  • Paediatrics (July 2016)

These textbooks were reviewed by Aksha Ramaesh, Angela Hu, and Anahita Sharma, third-year preclinical medical students based in St Andrews, continuing their clinical studies at the University of Edinburgh, McMaster University, and University of Manchester, respectively. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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