Transition to medical school & how to study
Congrats on your acceptance to medical school!
This is a great time to make lifelong friends and connect with people who have the same interests as you. You may even meet your other half and get married like we did! Use the first few weeks of school to get to know your new classmates, join interest groups, attend events, and get settled in. Meet your upperclassmen and don't underestimate how helpful they can be! They've been in your shoes and can offer great advice.
Starting medical school is challenging but exciting. You finally get to start your journey to becoming a physician! While there is not a one-size-fits-all for studying in medical school, there are some helpful resources and tips that we wish we would have known before we started.
First off, you may need to revise the way you study and that's OK. There is a huge difference between undergrad and medical school, both in the amount of material you are expected to master in a short period of time and the amount of detail you need to know for each topic. Many students can get by in college by cramming for exams and just doing surface level studying, but this will likely not work for medical school. The exams are also significantly more difficult and require second, third, and fourth-order thinking.
How should you study?
Most importantly, study every single day. Many people describe medical school as “drinking from a firehose” and that is absolutely the case. Studying every day is necessary to keep up with the material especially since many of the concepts build on each other. During your first year, this also pertains to the anatomy lab. Though you may not have to go to the lab after hours daily, doing so at least a few times a week will help you master the material and prepare for the lab practical.
Active learning is the name of the game in medical school. What does this mean? Don’t just passively read your textbooks or watch videos while half listening. Take notes and reformulate the material in your own words, make outlines, create pictorial representations, etc! Perhaps the best piece of advice we can give you is this: do as many practice questions as you can! This is the crux of active learning. Not only do you learn by applying your knowledge while you answer the questions and see how concepts are presented in question form, but also by studying the explanations. Helpful Qbanks include Kaplan, USMLE-RX, and Uworld*. Huge caveat for Uworld: save for STEP 1 studying if possible! We would highly recommend using Qbanks other than Uworld when you are studying for your classes in MS1 and MS2 years. However, once you start studying for STEP 1, you should absolutely use Uworld (more on this in our STEP 1 post!).
In general, people have different ways of studying. Don't compare yourself to your classmates! You can always get ideas about new resources or helpful methods of studying, but if your way is working for you and you are seeing good results, don't make a change just for the sake of being like your peers. That being said, if you feel that you are not keeping up with the material well or are not seeing success in terms of your scores, don't be afraid to change up your study methods. This process is fluid and you can't expect to know the perfect way to study right when you start medical school. In terms of studying in a group versus independently, it just depends on the learner. We would recommend spending time learning the material well on your own and you can always study with others and go over material once you have done some independent study. Of course, make sure you study with people who are going to stay on track and not get distracted. Many people find that teaching others and going over material in a group helps them solidify the material in their mind. For us, we would study independently the majority of the time and a few days before the exam, we would review material together. Nevertheless, we found the most success with independent study because that is where the foundation begins.
In terms of resources, there are so many out there and certain ones will work better for certain people! Even more resources have come available since we graduated so we can only speak to what we used (disclaimer: none of these are sponsored and this is just what worked for us).
For our anatomy course, we used BRS Anatomy, UMichigan anatomy online, Netter’s atlas, Rowan’s atlas, First Aid, & Firecracker. Firecracker and BRS Anatomy were very helpful for the concepts and clinical correlations that were addressed on the written part of the exam. For both the lab practical and written exam, be sure to know the structure, function, innervations, blood supply, etc. of each area of interest as well as clinical significance and pathology associations.
For our biochemistry/cell & molecular biology course, we used Lippincott’s biochemistry book, First Aid, Firecracker, & BRS Biochemistry/Molecular biology & genetics. This course is mostly just memorization and you’ll have to know many biochemical pathways and rote facts. For some people, this will be one of the easier courses, especially if they took similar courses in undergrad.
For our microbiology & immunology course, we used First Aid, Sketchy Micro, BRS Microbiology/Immunology, & Firecracker. This will likely be your first introduction to Sketchy and it is a game changer. At first, we were skeptical about it because it seemed like it may not fit with our typical learning style. However, it is incredible how versatile Sketchy is and how it works for essentially every learner if they’re willing to give it a chance. We still remember Sketchy videos to this day and it has helped us recall so many specific and obscure facts that we might otherwise struggle with.
For our organ systems courses (renal, GI, cardiology, pulmonology, etc.), we used Boards & Beyond, Sketchy Pharm & Micro, Pathoma, First Aid, & Physeo. Depending on the organ system, we supplemented with a couple additional resources like Costanzo’s physiology book and Firecracker, but truthfully we found a significant amount of success with the aforementioned resources. For each organ system, it's helpful to start off with the anatomy and physiology, then pertinent pathology, and finally pharmacology.
A note about Anki. There are many students who swear by Anki and have found much success with it. In our experience, we found it to be difficult to keep up with and we preferred our other study methods. We did use it sporadically though when reviewing Sketchy videos. However, we would recommend that you check it out and at least give it a try, in case it works for you. There are now many more decks to use since we were in school and if you start early on in medical school, you may find it helpful. Otherwise, don’t try to force it! Everyone learns in different ways. Don't be afraid to try new techniques if yours isn't working and adjust accordingly.
If you keep up with your studying and learn the material well the first time, reviewing the material for STEP 1 will be that much easier. Figuring out the best way to study during your first year is critical.
Medical school is a big adjustment so don't get discouraged if the first exam doesn't go well! Learn from your experience and figure out how to improve. Go talk with your professors, upperclassmen, and your peers to see what you can do better next time.
Get ready for the marathon that is medical school!