Advice for first year medical students

Below is advice on how to succeed and survive the first year of medical school.  Although it is tailored toward UCSF medical students, I hope these posts will benefit any medical student about to start his or her first year.

If you click on the highlighted text, it will open a new page with student reviews.

Credits: UCSF medical students

Student #1:

ON BOOKS: Overall, the message our class got was to NOT buy any textbooks aside from Netter’s and Blumenfeld’s. I definitely regretted it following that advice, and when I got around to getting the textbooks I found them very useful. The most useful by far (aside from Netter and Blumenfeld) was Gray’s Anatomy for students. After that, I used the Color Atlas of Anatomy (great for studying for anatomy exams if you don’t feel like going to the lab), Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination, Boron’s Medical Physiology, Katzung’s Basic and Clinical Pharm, Wheater’s Functional Histology, and Robbins Pathology. I used each of these at least 5-10 times to clarify or settle things in my mind; for me, it was worth it. You can get older editions of Wheater’s or Bates’ or the physiology textbook for cheaper. Also, if you volunteer in a clinic, particularly a low-tech one, it’s worth buying something like a pocket guide to family medicine. I volunteered in a clinic for a year; found myself stranded without information on particular illnesses many times, before I finally saw another med student (from another school) come in with a few books like these. What a friggin revelation!!! It seems ridiculous now to try to learn to practice medicine without any reference books! Something like the Manual of Family Practice (published by LWW) or the Mass General Pocket Medicine is fine. Sun, 8/31/08 10:36 PM



If you want to know what other students think about the books mentioned, click on the images below.






Student #2 

First: don’t panic! At the beginning of every block they will hit you with a tsunami of new jargon, new concepts etc. and you will be overwhelmed and feel like you don’t understand anything, and the course directors will promise you that everything will make sense by the end of the block. This is true! Don’t kill yourself trying to memorize everything the first day. The professors here take their job of teaching very seriously. Don’t worry, they will teach it to you five ways until it makes sense. Just try to understand everything a bit better every day, every week and you’re doing great! Amount of time to study: before I started class a second year told me if I studied 2-3 hours a day I would stay on top of the material and be fine for the exam. I say this is more or less true. 2-3 hours is usually plenty to keep up on the reading, and then a big push the weekend before the exam of long days in the library is very sufficient to get around the mean on exams (which for us was always between 85-95%). Tue, 8/26/08 7:57 AM




Student #3

Don’t freak out for the first test. Everyone always over-studies and hence stresses out right before. It’s not necessary. Med school is easier than undergrad. Remember, 70% is exactly the same as 100%. Don’t take too many electives your first quarter. Over the course of your two years, you’ll have the opportunity to take electives you like in order to get the extra time off during 4th year. It sucks to be beholden to attending electives that have fizzled out towards the end of the quarter (and pass up on great talks with free food!) If you do take free food from a talk, please be courteous and stay for as much of the talk as you honestly can. Don’t buy all the books they tell you to buy. Start out with the Prologue syllabus and Netter’s anatomy. From there, you can determine if you really want to buy extra books (but they would really be just that — extra). You can get by in class and do fine on tests with just the lecture slides and syllabus. Also, the UCSF bookstore will match any online textbook retailer’s prices. Just print out the page and bring it to the bookstore. When you fill out the online form for your preceptorship assignment, tell them you do NOT have a Driver’s license. If you say yes, they’ll place you in the East Bay or farther and expect you to pay for your own transportation costs (MUNI, BART, gas, car rental, etc.). They do not reimburse for anything. Wed, 8/20/08 3:12 PM




4. First year is all about having fun and enjoying life before it gets too crazy and hectic. You should definitely spend time with your classmates as they will become your closest colleagues and support during these difficult times ahead. In regards to academics, I would buy only the syllabus and Netter’s. You don’t really need any other textbooks because you end up reading only a few chapters anyway. Focus on the objectives and key terms. Prologue is a very chill block, so use it to try out new study techniques. When Organs start, it starts to get a little more serious. When you learn cardio, this will be the only time you learn it; it will not be revisited so be sure to learn it well. Go to as many clinics as possible. Practice your history-taking and physical exam as much as possible–it’s the only way you can improve. Always elicit feedback whenever possible. Choose your electives wisely. There are a lot of good ones to take, but if you sign up for too many, then you won’t have any lunch breaks to just chill/decompress after morning lectures. For small groups, don’t be late. If you’re late enough times, you’ll get a warning letter from the dean. Lastly, med school is a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Inevitably, personal and academic challenges do come up. Never be afraid to ask for help, and always offer a helping hand. Maintain as much compassion and empathy with your colleagues and patients. Wed, 8/20/08 9:58 AM




5. the best way to learn anatomy is to practice naming things in the lab. looking at netters won’t cut it. so, take advantage of the open anatomy labs that they have before exams. and you will quickly learn that procrastination and cramming doesn’t cut it in med school (eg. pharmacology takes a lot longer to learn than you’d think!). keep up with the reading and study every night. then exams will be a breeze. Wed, 8/20/08 9:24 AM




6. Work a little bit every day. Don’t succumb to the clique nature of medical school. Get along with everyone! Ask for help early. Use the old test files and online assessments! Wed, 8/20/08 9:15 AM




7. Have Fun! Every class stresses about their scores on the tests until they finally realize it is pass/no pass. Take that free time and spend it at the homeless clinic, volunteer, learn spanish, learn peruvian dancing…. but dont spend your nights trying to get a 95 instead of 85. Take advantage of all the free lunches: Monday, Tuesday = Random Lunches , Wednesday = Basic Science Journal Club, Thursday = Synapse, Friday = Clinical Sciences Journal Club. Do Not Challenge Orlando Zepeda to a beer pong challenge. It will end bad for you. Enjoy SF! Wed, 8/20/08 8:56 AM




8. You have a lot more time than you think. I came in thinking my life was over, but I definitely had time for friends, the gym, and yes even TV! Exams require time for studying, the amount of information kind of makes it feel like you’re studying for finals for each exam, but they are pass/fail and the instructors do a really good job of directing you towards what you should focus on. Keep up on the reading, because that can magically accumulate into ungodly amounts if you’re not paying attention. Being that you’re here, you probably were a part of every club/organization in college etc. In terms of extracurriculars, be sure to choose the things that you actually care about, not joining things to just add them to a list. While you do have time, you don’t want to be sucked up by things you think you have to do. Other than that, enjoy (it definitely flies by)! Wed, 8/20/08 8:48 AM




9. Find a study group early and be able to explain major concepts to each other before tests, this will really aid in your studying. Tue, 8/19/08 10:00 PM




10. Keep up a schedule of regular exercise. It will make you feel SO much better, even during the stressful times, and will make your studying time more productive too. Sun, 8/17/08 11:09 AM



11. Studying from the powerpoint slides (instead of the objectives) works really well It is possible to read a syllabus section while paying reasonable attention to a lecturer Small groups really help Tue, 8/12/08 3:10 PM



12. Enjoy this year and make time for yourself, family and friends. Many of your classmates will sign up for lots and lots of electives…remember that they are optional and don’t feel bad if you just do one (or none!) elective per quarter. Coursework will take much of your time and the electives (especially clinically-based ones) can eat into your free time. Sun, 8/10/08 3:05 PM



13. Make time for a life. Don’t buy any books except maybe Boards books. You won’t really need them, and Boards books are concise and helpful for the future. Do something fun for the summer. Fri, 8/8/08 3:41 PM


14. Talk to as many second years as you can. Don’t sweat the academics and sit with people you like. Fri, 8/8/08 1:38 PM



15. Have fun!!! Don’t get overinvolved in stuff. Do Outdoor Programs. Check out the Mission Bay Gym. Talk to many non-medical friends. Thu, 8/7/08 2:05 PM



16. Good advice first year is to RELAX a bit… I know it can be a bit scary to start med school and not know what to expect, but trust us that you have more time during 1st year than you think you will have, so enjoy it! Get really involved in school (electives, clinics, etc), extracurricular activities, and take advantage of this great city we live in. Work hard, but play hard too… that’s what a P/NP curriculum is for 🙂 Thu, 8/7/08 1:44 PM



17. 1) Textbooks: Do not buy any textbooks besides netters (and the one for BMB, but don’t worry about that till then). I bought baby robbins and gray’s and literally never even opened either of them. Total waste of money — the syllabus has more information then you are able to learn anyway. 2) Reading: I found that reading ahead doesn’t help at all. A lot of our classmates would read ahead or stay caught up in the reading, but then when i came time to study for the test they would not really know any more then those of us who hadn’t done that much reading (but had gone to class and done the small group work and read the stuff required for this, etc.). I think this is because of information overload — they read everything quickly just so they could feel like they were keeping up with the work but then ended up retaining very little of it because they were just cramming information into their heads with taking the time to process it or understand/think about it enough for it to stick. When it came time for the test, they had to read the whole syllabus all over again — just like those of us who hadn’t done all the reading in the first place. My advice is to read the syllabus ONCE, while studying for the test, using the power points and small groups etc, and taking the time to really internalize it. Going through it all one time, well, the week before the test is in my opinion by far most efficient and high-yield strategy. But then again if you want to spend your entire year in the library, read away… I am someone who usually goes to class and i get quite a lot out of it — i feel that i learn as much from an hour of lecture as i do spending 3 hours reading the syllabus. This has a lot to do with how i personally learn, and everybody is different, but i strongly feel that class is the single most efficient way to learn. 2.5) look at the powerpoints while you are reading — this really helped me at least — the powerpoints are far more concise than the syllabus sections but still cover all the important points (ie what will be on the test) so in additional to being informative they also provide a very good guide for what to pay attention to, and what to skip, in the syllabus. 3) Small group: I learned more in small group then anywhere else during first year. Do the small group work in advance. (This usually requires a bit of reading, but not that much, especially if you do it in groups, which is also very helpful) This really helps. You do not have to understand it all before hand, just to have looked at it and worked on it a bit. If you don’t you are often lost for most of small group and don’t get that much out of it. But if you do, and have thought about the questions and material in advance, you can really learn a ton from small group. If you come away from every small group really understanding what happened, which is completely possible if you have worked on it before, you can probably get like 50% of the test questions without even studying. That is how valuble it is and how much they emphasize it. 3.5) make sure you go over the small groups while studying — this is probably more valuable then reading the accompanying syllabus sections because the important, hence tested, concepts are the ones emphasized in small groups. Also, do them with friends from other groups, so you can compare answers and minimized the impact of bad/negligent group leaders…. Thu, 8/7/08 1:40 PM



18. Do the reading before lecture, every day. Otherwise the volume of material is simply overwhelming and you can’t possibly spend the necessary time to understand it. You’ll avoid a lot of cramming if you keep on top of the syllabus every day. Go out a lot during Prologue, to make friends. Cliques form pretty fast, and although everyone is very nice, it’s hard to float between groups after November or December. Thu, 8/7/08 1:15 PM



19. -don’t take too many electives, you will regret it when you have no lunch hour… you can still go to the elective if you are interested but only enroll in the ones you are sure you will want to attend every week. -go to lecture… it gets real easy to skip since they post them online, but you will regret it because its easy to get behind, and you miss out on the social aspect of school and important announcements. -make sure and do small group homework before class… otherwise you will feel behind and have nothing to contribute. plus when the info is deep/difficult it will just make you more confused and make it seem harder. -go to path lab… its another easy one to skip out on, but it will come back and bite you. this is important stuff and i tested heavily on the boards. -don’t over stress yourself… med school is hard, but it is pass/fail… don’t kill yourself or get burned out. MSP is a great help to see what you need to know and whats important. -have fun! go to class activities, make friends, and let the good times roll (just dont get too out of hand cause you still have to have brain cells when you’re done…) Thu, 8/7/08 1:10 PM



20. get involved at homeless clinic early! Thu, 8/7/08 12:37 PM



21. 1. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. If you’re going to be absent, and you think it may cause issues (it often does, many profs are a little irrational in terms of attendance), just get online and write in sick. You can miss as many things for being sick as you need, but you only have 3 discretionary absences. Otherwise “unexcused absences” cause a note to be filed in your file (dun dun dun!!). Excused absences can be for conferences or being sick. You only have to write in for small groups, FPC, and some labs (argh on that). 2. Don’t be late. Or be the late person who the small group leader likes. Supposedly, they’re keeping something in your file about being on time to things, so it’s important. 3. Bring food to small groups. This will make you very popular. 4. Actually give input to small group leaders. Often when the leader asks “i want to do this however you guys think it’s best” people just sit and look at each other. Of course we many know what hasn’t worked really well in the past and annoys us, but we don’t let them in on that, so we get annoyed again. They actually want to know if you have suggestions, and will follow them. 5. If your small group/FPC instructor sucks, let them know. Of course, in a nice way. But if it’s a person that you’ll be seeing a lot of, don’t decide that it’s inevitable that it will be horrible, but talk to someone about it (FPC staff and course directors are awesome), they’ll give you some tips, and if you really try to talk to the person who is not being conducive to you/or your groups learning, they’ll often take the tips and change the way they’re doing things. No one likes to have a bad time. And the small group/FPC instructors are often having a bad time if the group is having a bad time. So it’s no fun for anyone. 6. Form a study group. Don’t be crazy serious about this and make people fill out applications on how they’d study for the boards, but just get a feel for a couple of people that you could actually be around a lot, who compliment your style of living (not just studying). This will become your lifeline to feeling alive. You will not only study with these people, but they will become your hiking/running/letting off steam/conversing about significant other problems/etc partners. And remain flexible, you may not know who the best people are for you to be with right away. 7. You will pass. (Well, usually you will, and if you don’t, you’ll pass the makeup) The average doesn’t always need to be above 90% so relax a bit. You don’t need to get above the average. It is not true that the deans have secret access to your scores and base their letters on them. Don’t believe the crazy conspiracy theories that continue to perpetuate unhealthy competition and stress. Just take the test and go out for frozen yogurt with your friends. 8. The best days are the days of tests. Not because of the test, but because after the test, there’s nothing you have to do! Go out, have fun, relax, sit in the sun (or the fog), bike, run, (maybe drink) be merry. 9. Figure out your type of learning. Read the syllabus and/or go to class. Some people learn better from reading and writing, some people need to hear it, some people need to ask 10 questions per lecture. Everyone has their own learning style. Don’t compromise on yours, and don’t be a brat about someone else’s. Yes, some people learn better when they ask 10 annoying questions in class. So be it. The ones that only ask questions in the beginning were showing off. The ones that continue throughout the year, those are people who need to talk about things to understand them. Hopefully they have a nice voice :). Some people learn best when they underline EVERY line in the syllabus. Go figure. Or rewrite the syllabus. Or read it upside down and left to right. 10. The way you learned for one block may not be the way you learn for other blocks. This was the hardest thing for ME to accept. I’d be like, well this worked on renal, would try it, and get frustrated at myself. So be flexible with yourself and try things out. ASK for help – from your friends, from faculty. I’ve never heard someone say no to helping. We’re all in medical school, we like to help. Really, we just like to feel like we’re useful :). I felt that I learned the best by DRAWING in metabolism and nutrition. I drew out everything, I traced all the handouts. 11. One sheet is enough. If you have 12 diagrams that show the same pathway in 12 different ways, you’re cooking up confusion. (this is true for at least me and some of my friends that i studied with). Pick one drawing/table to learn from. Add things into it. Memorize it that way. The 12 other graphs that people put online (I don’t think it was for competition, it’s more to show that they learn it better that way, or by making their own graph). 12. I personally don’t learn best if I make a new chart/graph/table. I learn equally well from making my own or using someone else’s. I forget my own as much as I forget someone else’s. Which is hilarious by the way. And sad. I’ll pick up a beautiful chart and be like, wow, I wrote down all the answers, even if I’d forgotten them for some application of them… 13. Collaborate. Yes, there are many who write all the objectives and every definition and every piece of crazy information. But then you have no outside life. Or at least a constricted, stressed one. If you really need to do that to learn, so be it, but many of your classmates are AWESOME and can write it better, or teach it better, so if you collaborate, as a class, or as smaller groups, it cuts down the tedious time, increases the study time, and lets you get involved in other projects at school and outside of school that are awesome. 14. Have fun! As many people said to me before I came here, You will have more time in medical school than you did in undergrad. This means if you love to do projects, you can do projects galore!!! Ge involved in writing, reading, clinics, volunteering, academic projects, etc. 15. Explore SF. You’re lucky to live here. Get out to the sunny sides of the bay sometimes. California really is sunny when you’re not in the sunset district! 16. If you are going to use board books to study (and you know which they are), it’s a good idea to use them as study guides for the blocks as you go through them. This way the board study books are familiar to you when you decide to sit and study for boards. This does not mean study for boards, please don’t, that’s just nerdy.

17. Don’t forget your old friends. Med school can be darn lonely sometimes. You had friends before, you did social things before, and as you start to make friends and socialize in the class, you will still often need your outside friends to make you feel fully whole as a person. Not just a medical socializing robot :). Thu, 8/7/08 12:13 PM




22. enjoy your time during prologue and organs, and focus on learning. fight the temptation to go skiing every weekend during m&n because it gets a little harder. expect to work hard during bmb. do what you like to do and don’t feel pressured to be involved in every extracurricular or elective. don’t act like we’re in high school again, although it seems like we are. free lunch doesn’t mean free lunch to go – show some class… Thu, 8/7/08 11:26 AM




  1. nieyma said

    hey, this is a very good advice you have listed here. am about to start med school soon, i think what you ahve said will reall help me when i start, this will be like my book, i gues i will read everytime.thanks.

  2. Anonymous said

    I’m so glad it was helpful. 🙂

  3. Yashi said

    I wish I had read this last year!It sure would have helped ^_^

  4. Nureini Abrar said

    YOOOO, really thanks man , this was soo helpfull u cant imagine how it helped as im going to medicine next year…..

    thanks alot and god bless u


  5. bibek said

    thanks man
    it was really worth reading

  6. Anonymous said

    if some dull person enter in medicall college accidentally or u can say luckily can he go through by hard work

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