Organizing OneNote to Rock Your Radiology Training

Radiology residents have a massive volume of information to keep track of in the discipline, consisting of texts, images, and sometimes videos.

The variety of data type is made more complex by the data sources, from website clippings, PDF from PubMed, a slide from noon conference, or simply freehand typing.

To complicate matters, a resident also must keep abreast many sets of requirements, documentations, conferences, reimbursements, and academic projects.

How do you keep track of it all?

Using OneNote to Organize

This post is more about the concept than the actual tool.  I happen to rely on OneNote, attracted to its balance between its rich set of features and accessibility.

A comparison between EverNote and OneNote has been done ad infinitum. For example, here, here, and here. You can even use Google Doc, Dropbox, or even just a well-organized folder on your personal computer to achieve the same.

However, the more complex a system, the more work it takes to use, and the less likely you will use it. For me, the key realization was that if I need to consciously file every document I save into this system, that is way too much work.  This means an Inbox is necessary – a default location where all incoming data can sit temporarily.

Therefore, my overall set up consists of three notebooks.

Three Notebooks

A Notebook is a major category of organization. For instance, I used a separate Notebook for my wedding, for overseas vacation, or for any major projects that were sure to accumulate a lot of material.

I currently keep only three notebooks in OneNote.

The three notebooks I keep in OneNote.

The Default

The default notebook in OneNote is usually just named after you.

It serves as an Inbox.  You can set up a trusted email address so that everything you email to collects in an Inbox notebook (details here).

I use the default notebook for anything I have yet to file away, or things I just need temporarily. You can set a default Section for OneNote to store everything before you have time to parse through them – quickly jotted ideas, articles clipped from the web using the web clipper, or quick photos of documents for safekeeping.

The OneNote clipper tool is wonderful. Just clip now and organize later.

Radiology Notes

With the new multiple-choice focused core exams sooner than the traditional oral boards, it is now more important to organize knowledge in an accessible format for easy review.

Modern note-taking software have good search functions which are useful for on-service referencing. However, some level of deliberate organization is also helpful when the time comes to study for the core exam.

The “Section Group” function is a 2nd level organization for OneNote, each group capable of holding additional sections.

Taking hint from a set of reviews notes passed down from previous generations of residents, I found that organizing by organ systems work the best.

Keeping notes organized by organ systems, each in a “Section Group”

Within each section group, different sections represent topics worth its own discussion.

Example of the content in the “Chest” section group shows discussion on different anatomic subdivisions or diseases

This fashion of organization gives you enough room to create your own style just by creating pages in each section.  Found a new rare Tracheal abnormality?  Create a new page.  Taking notes on a diagnosis during morning “hotseat” conference? Build on the Cases tab section.

Reference – Harness The Power of Search

The Reference Notebook is organized straight up alphabetically.  This way, just find the first letter of the title and you know immediately where it goes.  Sometimes I just wanted to file something away for safekeeping without thinking too hard about it.

The alphabetization system allows things with similar titles naturally aggregate.   Then, OneNote’s search bar will do most of the heavy lifting whenever you need to look up something in the notebook.

For instance, below you see that I saved a copy on how to install VPN client on a 64-bit Linux platform (my home machine).  It’s useful knowledge, but only rarely necessary.  Therefore, clipped a copy, threw it under J and proceed to forget about it – until the next time it’s needed.

J for Juniper

Each color tab is a letter of the alphabet, and my Section Groups are divided into A-H, I-P, and Q-Z.

In this fashion, I keep a PDF copy of my USMLE Step 3 score report (under U), a copy of my annual PPD test results (under P), flu shot records (you get the point), etc.

Tip: Your attached Word or Excel document on an OneNote page is integrated with Office – double click on the document to edit, and changes will be automatically saved back.

I also have a separate section for each conference so I can document receipts for reimbursement.  You can take advantage of OneNote’s decent optical character recognition by snapping pictures of documents.


The bottom line is realizing that organization comes with increased up-front effort  but reduces future hassle for access. In fact, the more complex a note-taking system is, the less likely you will end up using it.

I find the three notebook system in OneNote – one for Inbox, one for radiology notes, and one for general storage in alphabetical order – strikes that complexity/accessibility balance.  Perhaps it works for you too.

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Howard Chen
Vice Chair for Artificial Intelligence at Cleveland Clinic Diagnostics Institute
Howard is passionate about making diagnostic tests more accurate, expedient, and affordable through disciplined implementation of advanced technology. He previously served as Chief Informatics Officer for Imaging, where he led teams deploying and unifying radiology applications and AI in a multi-state, multi-hospital environment. Blog opinions are his own and in no way reflect those of the employer.

One response to “Organizing OneNote to Rock Your Radiology Training

  1. Pingback: 5 Free Productivity Tools for the Radiology Resident » Figure Stuff Out

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