Congratulations on your acceptance to medical school! You’re ready to begin the next big chapter of your education, career, and life. It’s an exciting time — but it also can be daunting.
While it may be stressful to step into the unknown, you don’t have to enter the first year of medical school in the dark. Knowing how to prepare for the first year of medical school and what to expect can help relieve some of the stress and burden of beginning this exciting adventure.
How Hard Is the First Year of Medical School?
Let’s get one thing straight: It’s not the complexity of first-year med school curriculum that’s the issue — it’s the sheer volume of material covered.
For example, organic chemistry 2 (an undergraduate class) is the most complex class you may take — even more complicated than any first-year medical school course. However, one month in undergrad Organic Chemistry 2 probably covered the same volume of information that your med school classes will cover in a single week.
Our advice for first-year medical students? You don’t necessarily have to alter your study habits to succeed in med school, but you do need to study more often than you did as an undergrad to keep up with the fast-paced learning environment.
What’s Included in First-Year Med School Curriculum?
As you might expect, the typical first-year med school curriculum focuses on the basic sciences: cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, etc.
These courses are designed to lay the foundation for the organ system blocks like cardiology, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal — to name a few — that you’ll learn later on. The gross anatomy lab likely will take place during your first year of medical school, and you may finish all anatomy courses by the end of the year or early in the second year, depending on the school you attend.
Understanding what will be covered in your classes can help you chart a path to success and figure out how to prepare for the first year of medical school.
Advice For First-Year Medical Students
Your study habits are going to change from undergrad to the first year of medical school — and again from year one to year two. Year one is all about understanding the core concepts that you’ll build upon in the next few years. At the end of your second year, you’ll take the USMLE Step 1 exam, so you’ll have to shift your focus from school exams to board exams.
One of the best pieces of advice for first-year medical students is to start familiarizing yourself with USMLE Step 1 study resources from the very first day of classes. Every piece of important, high-yield information is outlined in “First Aid for the UMSLE Step 1” and Rx360+, for example, which will give you all the knowledge you need to pass your in-house exams as well as boards. It’s never too early to start using these resources, and you will thank yourself later for doing so!
To properly use those tools, spaced repetition is the best strategy. It’s the antithesis of cramming. Basically, you review past material at specific intervals to improve your retention. A good way to do this is through flash card applications, such as Anki and USMLE-Rx, which can tailor your review sets based on how well you understand and recall certain concepts.
It’s also important to stay organized and have a regimen. Don’t be afraid to start tinkering with study calendars or find a buddy who shares your study habits to keep yourself on track. Creating a road map helps offload stress!
Finally, the most important lesson to remember as you prepare for the first year of medical school courses: Every single med student gets overwhelmed. Regardless of your educational background, everyone coming into the first year of medical school is in the same boat and will feel stressed at some point.
When you get stressed out during the first year of medical school and beyond, think about why you’re there in the first place. You’re going through the wringer now to eventually make a positive impact on patients’ lives. And remember that your classmates, professors, and family are your biggest supporters — it’s OK to turn to them for advice.
Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.
If you want help preparing for the first year of medical school, click here to get a free five-day trial of USMLE-Rx.