Wednesday, July 8, 2015

50 Things I Learned During My First Year of Medical School

I still can’t believe I made it through my first year of medical school! It feels like it was just yesterday when I ended my career in research, moved to Georgia, and started a very crazy and demanding first term of medical school classes. This year has been an absolute roller coaster, but there have been more ups than downs, and I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences for the world. I am officially 1/4th a doctor and I can’t wait for what else this crazy ride has in store!

With that being said, I have finally reached a point where I can sit back and reflect on some of the things I learned during my first year of medical school. In retrospect, I probably should have been putting together a list as the year went on, but for now I just compiled a list off the top of my head. It is completely subjective and based solely on my experiences, but I am sure a few students can relate. If you’re about to enter medical school, then you might even find it a little bit helpful. Either way, I hope you enjoy!

1.   Buying all that expensive equipment at the beginning of the year is a huge waste of money. You’ll probably only use it a few times during your first year, and a lot of hospitals supply the basics. You should definitely buy a stethoscope though, and a cheap otoscope and ophthalmoscope should suffice if you don’t want to borrow one from a classmate.

2. Buy yourself a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and treat it like it’s your lover. It will make your life a whole lot easier. (If you’re lucky enough to be attending my school, you won’t really need it until you hit second term)

3. Invest in a large desk and white board for your home.

4. If your anatomy lab is like mine, it will probably provide all the tools needed to do a dissection, so don’t bother buying your own dissection kit either. (By the way, I have an unused dissection kit for sell if anyone wants to buy it, lol). The basics for anatomy lab are scrubs, shoe covers, gloves, googles, and copies of Grant’s Dissector and Netter’s Anatomy books (my lab provided the books, since they get so nasty that no one who brings one in actually takes it out of the lab).

5. There will probably be an electronic version of every textbook you need available completely free from your library, another student, or by other means. This won’t help if you’re an unfortunate soul like myself who prefers to actually feel the paper and be able to turn the pages of a book, but it can save you tons of money if you’re strapped for cash.

6. After about a term or so of reading all the chapters in your textbook that correspond to a lecture, you’ll quickly realize that passing most exams depends on how well you can memorize the PowerPoint slides and other material that is presented in class. It will also save you a lot of time study-wise. 

7. Even if you don’t necessarily want to get involved, attending club meetings is a great way to get free food and you might even find a few you like :-)

8. I’m convinced the sole purpose of orientation week is to get students used to sitting in one room for eight hours straight. I think my week mostly consisted of talks on financial aid, professionalism, and ethics. The real fun lies in the nightly social events where you’ll get a chance to hang out with and have fun with your new classmates, so make sure you go to at least one of them if possible.

9. You will find a group of classmates that will quickly become your main support system throughout school. Whether it’s celebrating birthdays, pushing you to not give up, or forcing you to get out the house and have fun, these will be the people who help you make it through. There also won’t be many people who understand the med school struggle as much as your classmates around you. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but try to find one or two people that you connect with early on. Medical school is so much better when you don’t feel like you’re doing it all alone. 

10. It’s worth it to have people outside of medical school with whom you can talk to or hang out with every now and then. It will help you feel somewhat connected to the real world.

11. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have any previous knowledge in the subject matter that will be taught before attending medical school. Even if you do, it really won’t help that much, so everyone is pretty much in the same boat. In other words, pre-studying the summer before is a waste of time! (Note to all of you entering medical students trying to get ahead by studying all summer)

12. Taking one day every weekend to do nothing school-related was one of the best decisions I made all year. It’s so easy to get consumed with studying that you lose focus and become miserable. A small weekly refresh button does wonders. (Ignore this during exam weekends)

13. Taking a two hour break each day is also nice. Go exercise, watch TV, do nothing, or if you’re a parent like me, spend it with your child. That way when you get back to studying you won’t be so easily distracted.

14. You’ll have more free time than you actually think you do during your first year. Take advantage of it so that you don’t completely lose your sanity!

15. It can be completely overwhelming at first. Remember to take everything one day at a time. You have everything it takes to make it, and if your school didn’t think so as well, they wouldn’t have accepted you. 

16. Don’t wait until the last-minute to ask for help. Whether it’s from your classmates, school administration, or outside sources, get it even if you’re not sure if you need it. Everyone struggles at one point or another. 

17. It’s a good idea not to talk with others about grades. Not only can it potentially stress you out, but I’ve found that the ones who aren’t doing as well tend to lie about how well they’re doing, while the top scorers in the class will try to act as if they’re struggling.

18. During your first year, passing is the only thing that really matters! Don’t get caught up in trying to obtain honors or being in the top 10% of the class, because it will just stress you out even more. Almost every physician I have spoken with (including those in super competitive fields) has said the same. Ten years from now, no one will really care what your grades were the first two years of medical school.

19. Try not to forget the information learned after every block exam. You’ll most likely need it for board exams, so try to learn the material the best you can the first time around.

20. You will learn that you can be completely stretched beyond what you thought were your limits, and still succeed.

21. When I first started, one of the 2nd year students told me to “get used to the constant feeling of being uncomfortable.” So true!

22. You will quickly learn how much of a luxury sleep really is. Don’t make it worse by trying to pull an all-nighter. I have yet to see anyone actually benefit from not sleeping before an exam.

23. Weekends will no longer mean sleeping in and being lazy. You’ll actually be excited for the extra time to study without the worry of having new material added in. Three day holiday weekends will excite you even more for the very same reason.

24. You will probably lose the ability to carry on a normal conversation with people outside of medical school, and you will also learn that not everyone can handle hearing your awesome stories from anatomy lab.

25. Try not to commit yourself to many outside activities. School will probably cause you to miss things like graduations, weddings, etc., and if you’re worried about upsetting anyone, just think of how upset you all would be if you ended up failing out of medical school because of it. Learn to say no, and be happy with focusing on your priorities.

26. Don’t put off doctor’s appointments, oil changes, and other important things because of school. Ignoring these things can prove to be very costly. 

27. There will probably come a time where you will cry. Sometimes for no reason at all, sometimes because of what you think was a bad exam, and other times because you’re so stressed you don’t know what else to do. Let it happen!

28. When it comes to attending classes, do what works best for you. Don’t let administration try to guilt trip you into attending lectures if you know you learn best on your own. It’s really not worth it to perform poorly on an exam because you didn’t take the time to find out how you study best and use that time wisely.

29. Don’t be afraid to switch up study techniques if something is not working for you. A large portion of the first year of medical school will be spent finding out how you learn the best and most efficiently.

30. A lot of your learning will be through independent study. YouTube and Google will become some of your best friends, and if you really get stuck on something, there will most likely be a mnemonic or some other tool available on the internet.

31. Once you discover that you can listen to lectures at 2x’s speed, you’ll start to wish that everything you watch could be sped up as fast as possible. 

32. When it comes to learning neuro, Dr. Najeeb is awesome, and if you can get past the accent, listening at 2x’s speed is even better.

33. Those lesions on the MR image? Don’t feel alone. Half the class doesn’t see them either.

34. Histology sucks! That is all.

35. Use Robbins and Pathoma to get through pathology.

36. If you’re a weird learner like me, then Picmonic will be the best thing since sliced bread. I can’t tell you how many times the pictures popped into my head during exams and helped me get a few extra points.

37. Put down those paper notecards…Quizlet and Anki flashcards are awesome!!!! You might even get lucky and find cards made by past students which will save you a ton of time.

38. Drinking after each and every exam will probably become the new norm. (Note: I am in no way condoning excessive drinking) 

39. When it comes to basic primary care skills, you will start off BSing your way through using your stethoscope, reflex hammer, ophthalmoscope, and other equipment. When you actually do hear or see something, it will be the coolest thing ever. When you actually get out and start seeing real patients, actually learning how to use the equipment will become a top priority, since you’ll realize that lives will depend on your skills one day.

40. When it comes to dealing with standardized patients, fake it until you make it! I’m convinced they can smell your fear during every practical exam and take off points because of it. 

41. By the end of first year, you will most likely be sick of hearing about Horner’s Syndrome, Bell’s palsy, and sepsis. The good news is you probably won’t (and better not) miss these in a clinical setting.

42. If you’re attending an osteopathic medical school, do not neglect OMT! If your school is anything like mine, then failing the course could be the reason why you have to repeat the entire year. It can feel completely subjective at times, but suck it up, and get through it.

43. Try to practice OMT skills at least once a week. It’s no fun trying to learn how to do 20+ techniques right before a practical exam. Trust me, I speak from experience.

44. If you’re a D.O. student, you’ll also get used to be half-naked in front of your peers fairly quickly. You’ll also get pretty comfortable touching your classmates in awkward places. Yay, for that sacral rock! Lol

45. Since you’re a medical student now, you’ll probably get phone calls from random family members and friends asking about a specific medical problem they may have. Chances are you won’t know the answer.

46. Your white coat ceremony will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. Hopefully you won’t have an exam three days afterwards (as was the case for me), so take some time to really enjoy it and have fun with your close family and friends who attend.

47. Medical students who don’t have families to take care of have NO idea how easy they have it. Try not to roll your eyes as they complain about how tired and stressed they are. We’re all working hard, just in different ways.

48. Once in medical school and living off student loans, you’ll quickly find out what it means to be truly broke and how hard it is to stretch student loan refund money into the summer months.

49. You will probably question your decision to attend medical school on a weekly basis. It will seem like pure torture at times, and to be honest it somewhat is. At the end of the day, if it’s really meant for you, you’ll love it more than you hate it.

50. You know what they say: “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it!” Medicine is not for everybody, and you should only pursue it if you can see yourself doing nothing else in life. The first year of medical school is tough, but getting through it will feel better than you know.

To those of you who have successfully made it through your first year of medical school, CONGRATS!!!! We still have a long way to go, but if the first year is a sign of things to come, then it will all be over before we know it. I hope you all are taking the time this summer to relax and hit that refresh button, because the grind will be back very soon!  

To the newly accepted medical students, CONGRATS AND GET READY! Enjoy the calm as much as you can, because the storm is coming! LOL 


  1. What a wonderful post, many thanks for posting it!!

    For reasons which may or may not be obvious, I'm COMPLETELY IGNORING #34, ROTFL!!! Medical Histology is the BEST CLASS EVER!!!! :)

    Signed, a former wanna be Pathologist

    1. Haha, if it makes you feel better, I absolutely loved the pathology lectures! Super interesting stuff. It's the histology slides of purple and blue dots that I despise. They all look the same!!!!

  2. Have you thought about offering to review people's applications and/or give general advice? I bet you could make some good extra money as you seem to have lots of helpful tips.

    Hope you're having an awesome summer and wish you the best for year 2 =)

    1. I actually serve as a mentor for DiverseMedicine Inc, and I do this for free when I can. I couldn't afford to pay for people to review my applications and give me advice when I was going through the process, so I wouldn't feel right charging other people for this. I do have a revenue-producing project I am working on that will benefit both you all as readers and myself, so stay tuned!

      Hope you're having a wonderful summer as well :-)

  3. Great post! thanks for sharing.

  4. Congrats on the acceptance! Don't'll be fine! Wishing you all the best!

  5. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom. I have been accepted to St. George's University and will be starting on 1/18/2016. As an older student African-American of 43 and a veteran of the military, I have often times wondered what the rigors of medical school will be like for an "old fart" like me. Your words have helped to reassure me that this challenge is very doable. Please continue to share your wisdom; your words are a shining light to students such as myself. God bless and I wish you all the best! :-)

    1. Thank you for reading and congrats on your acceptance! One of our professors didn't start med school until he was 50, and he loves to stress that to any student who thinks they're an "old fart", LOL. I'm sure you'll do great and I wish you the best of luck on your journey :-)

  6. I can so relate to everything in your post. Nice write-up :)

  7. Replies
    1. I think I say that every time an OMT exam randomly seems to pop up right before a major exam that I've spent all my time studying for in another class, LOL!

  8. This was such a great post! I really appreciate it how you gave an honest description of your first year experience without being overly dramatic/making it sound impossible while still being realistic. I'm in the process of interviewing with several DO and MD schools now (actually have interview with PCOM-Ga this Friday!) and should be starting next year (assuming I get accepted, of course haha).

    Anyways, thanks again for posting. Love the blog

    1. Thanks for the nice words, and congrats on the interview!!!! Just a heads up that they'll be doing things a little different tomorrow, so you'll actually be spending a couple of hours in the classroom with us 2nd years :-) Don't be afraid to say hey when you see me, and throw away the nerves cause the interviews here are really laid back! Good luck :-)


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