15 Helpful Tips For A First Year Medical Student

advice for first year medical students

Being a first year medical student comes with lots of hassles which when not handled adequately, could mess up your whole years of medical school. I vividly remember my first day as a medical student. You know that feeling of finally getting admission to study the course of your dream. I was full of motivation and hopes for the journey that lay ahead of me.

However, every passing day in medical school, I wake up always being anxious because I do not want to be left behind in anything at all. It was so bad that I was also anxious about the exams that would come many months later.

So in other not to miss out on anything, I secured every study material I could lay my hands on even those that were not in our current scheme of work. I forced myself to keep reading at odd hours even when I was not in the mood. For me, all I wanted was to be a good doctor.

The first assessment came by and I received the shock of my life. I barely crossed 50% in just histology and biochemistry. And was somewhere between 40% and 49% for all other courses that I wrote; Gross anatomy, physiology, and Embryology. It was then that an older colleague said to me; Welcome to medical school.

It was also then that I realized that I needed to work on understanding myself and achieve balance before I could make any real progress in the upcoming assessments to buffer my poor scores. I realized that I totally had a very bad orientation right from my first year in medical school. And this is why I have decided to share this piece of advice for first year medical students who may not have had the chance to witness a proper orientation.

As I sat down to examine my study pattern in medical school, I realized that I was getting a lot of things wrong. First I realized that I work best and efficiently at night compared to day time, I was distracted by lots of irrelevant study materials, and I jot down more points while studying than I actually try to remember at the moment of reading. In other words, I needed to work on spaced repetitions to improve memory and cognition.

So I immediately started fixing myself up and increased my active study hours too while limiting my study materials to just the course outlines released by each department. By the time I wrote the second assessment, I had gained some level of confidence in myself and it showed on my scores. I had an average of 65% in all Anatomy courses, managed to cross 50% in Physiology, but this time was slightly below 50% in Biochemistry.

In subsequent assessments and during my main professional exam (1st medical professional exam), my confidence was through the roof. I had discovered what really worked in medical school and I am currently a few months away from finishing medical school.

In this post, I have decided to share 15 tips for first year medical students which helped me during my own time up till now. Some of these tips could be what you may have been hearing other senior colleagues tell you about succeeding in medical school. But maybe with continuous repetitions, you will get to internalize this and apply it in your own situation too.

These tips for first year medical students will be helpful too;

  • Anyone who is aspiring to gain admission into medical school
  • A first year medical student who recently entered medical school and
  • First year medical students who have been in medical school and are looking for a survival guide to overcome.

Table of Contents

15 Helpful Advice For First Year Medical Students

advice for first year medical students
advice for first year medical students
  1. Medical School Is Not High School: Drop Your Past Glories
  2. First focus on understanding what works best for you
  3. Do not be intimidated by anyone; no one has passed yet
  4. Focus on yourself; Don’t try to impress
  5. Leave dating for now
  6. Don’t waste time on irrelevant study materials
  7. Have your own medical school textbooks
  8. Don’t be intimidated by your age
  9. Get your medical school essentials
  10. Look for opportunities to boost your CV
  11. Don’t be a bookish medic
  12. Find online communities to follow
  13. Have a spiritual life
  14. Never give up; it’s just the beginning
  15. Have a mentor

Medical School Is Not High School: Drop Your Past Glories

The first thing you must understand as a first year medical student is that anyone can fail medical school exams. Remember I told you about how I was shocked when I saw my first test results in medical school. Now, I never imagined that with all my academic records during my high school days I would never fail any test or exam. But for the first time, I saw myself going down below 50%.

Now, this is very normal in medical school. The way you approach concepts in medical school is very different from how it is approached in high school, but only a few first year medical students learn this on time.

In medical school, you are being introduced to brand new concepts and terminologies you may have never heard before. And you need an adequate understanding of the foundational principles of every subject in the first year to make sense of whatever is being taught at your higher levels.

So the first piece of advice for first year medical students is to approach these first courses you encounter in medical school with a very open mind. Forget the retentive memory you once had, there are some topics you must read over and over to be able to understand them in medical school.

So as a first year medical student, you should read as though everything depends on reading. Do not trust your past glories to lead you to success, remember that all your colleagues in medical school were also among the best brains in their respective high schools and had past glories too. So forget your past glories and bend down to work.

First focus on understanding what works best for you

This is also one mistake made by lots of first year medical students. Because many high schools have highly structured programs especially if it is a boarding school, students actually have no say as to what works best for them. They must follow the schedule designed by the school authorities.

But medical school is very different. You become independent all of a sudden, and you try to apply your rigid schedule from your high school to medical school. But you end up finding out that you can no longer have a siesta because the anatomy practicals end late in the afternoon, and sometimes in the evening. So your only option, if you are to read for the day, will be to force your tired brain that has been through long hours of morning and afternoon lectures, with evening practical sessions to read in the evening and briefly at night before you sleep.

But of course, you cannot because you are already tired and even if you try, you end up sleeping on top of your textbooks with little comfort. And then wake up not well-rested only to repeat the same cycle the next day.

This was my sad story in my first year in medical school. Not until I realized that I actually read better at midnight and in the early hours of the morning. So I go to bed in the evening after school and wake up around 11 pm or 12 am and read till 3 pm. Then go to bed again and wake up by 6 am.

The 3 hours at midnight was dedicated to my active studies and of course, I find time in between lectures and breaks to read too. Now, this is not ideal for everyone. But the point is that you should find out what works best for you and implement it for increased productivity.

I also realized that I was a visual learner early enough in medical school. So I created mind maps, especially while studying anatomy and physiology to help me relate structures better. I also made use of diagrams with pens/highlighters of different colors. It was a real hustle, but in the end, it worked for me.

Find out how my ideal day in medical school is spent.

Do not be intimidated by anyone; no one has passed yet

As a first year medical student, you will find lots of colleagues who are always fast in learning and who cover topics faster even before school resumes. Some of these persons use this ability to intimidate their colleagues, and if you are yet to understand yourself, you will easily fall for this and lose focus.

The best advice for first year medical students in this situation is to ignore them and focus on their work. Just make sure you attend your lectures and follow up with the released lecture notes so that you don’t get behind schedule.

Focus on yourself; Don’t try to impress

Just like I have mentioned above, it is better to pass your medical school exams than to be that guy who always talks about all he has read but still fails his exams. As a first year medical student, you should have no business trying to impress anyone.

Remember that your first medical professional is a rate-limiting exam that will determine if you will continue with medical school, or if you will get kicked out. So leave impressing people and focus on passing your professional exam. Then when you enter the clinical classes, you can impress people all you want if you really know your stuff well.

Leave dating for now

One other mistake first year medical students make is to jump into dating as soon as they get admitted into medical school. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with dating as a first year medical student. But my point is this; love comes with lots of emotion that could distract you from focusing on your schoolwork.

Imagine having a heartbreak just close to your medical exams or being hurt by someone you love so much at such a critical moment. That could be a total disaster.

But if you make it through your first medical professional exam, then you can give dating a chance.

Also, Read; All You Should Know About Dating A Medical Student

Don’t waste time on irrelevant study materials

In my first year as a medical student, I was so distracted from reading lots of study materials that were not really part of my scheme of work. I was trying to acquire knowledge, but I was missing out on the first rule in medical school;

Pass your exams first and you will be assumed to be knowledgeable till proven otherwise.

There are other posts on this blog on the various best resources for first year medical students and some of them include;

Apart from these, the best advice for first year medical students is to get all the course outlines released by different departments and use them as a study guide. Then once you finish reading the contents of your course outline, you can outsource some of the best resources for first year medical students to help you during revision.

Have your own medical school textbooks

medical school textbooks
As a first year medic, you need to have your own medical school textbooks

As a first year medical student, find a way to have your own medical school textbooks. It’s not good if you keep borrowing essential textbooks from colleagues to read. If you cannot afford to pay for your recommended medical textbooks, then you can borrow these textbooks from older colleagues and return them after your exams.

The issue with using another person’s textbook in medical school is that we all have very tight study schedules with lots of things to study too. And those texts are useful for quick references in case there is something you need to look up or try to remember. Also, imagine reading an anatomy textbook full of pages that are marked with different colors of highlighters that you did not use. It could easily deflect your mind off other important words and concepts while reading.

Your medical school textbooks are quite expensive, but they are very worthwhile investments you need to make in your career as a medical student.

Below is a list of the top 10 books for first year medical students

  • Lasts Anatomy By Chummy S Sinatamby
  • Human Anatomy by BD Chaurausia
  • Frank Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy
  • Keith Moore’s Clinically Oriented anatomy
  • Haper’s Medical Biochemistry
  • Guyton’s Human Physiology
  • Grant’s Atlas of Human Anatomy
  • Lippincot’s Medical Biochemistry
  • Chopade MCQs in Human Anatomy
  • Anatomy and Physiology Coloring Workbook

Don’t be intimidated by your age

I have seen a lot of people on online forums I belong in asking for the right age for a first year medical student. The truth is that it absolutely depends on the medical school you applied to. Some medical schools, will not accept people who are older than a certain limit.

But as long as you were admitted into medical school, then you are at the right age for a first year medical student. There is no need to feel ashamed because of your old age in medical school. I have seen lots of colleagues who have finished their first degree, got married with children, and are currently one of the toppers in my class.

On the other hand, no age is too young for medical school as long as you were accepted. Do not feel intimidated because of your young age. In fact, you should be proud that you were able to achieve what your older colleagues were unable to achieve when they were your age.

Get your medical school essentials

There are lots of items you need to buy as a first year medical student. These items are what will make your stay in medical school easier and more comfortable. Some of these items include;

  • A good laptop
  • A good smartphone
  • Smart wristwatch
  • Good reading desks and tables, etc.

We have a separate post on this blog about the things a first year medical student needs to buy while entering medical school.

Look for opportunities to boost your CV

A lot of first year medical students enter medical school with the mindset of just going there to bag their MBBS and be going. But the fact is that medical school is far beyond bagging an MBBS degree.

There are numerous opportunities for medical students to boost their CVs and increase the chances of them securing a cool job post-graduation. These opportunities include but are not limited to;

  • Internships for first year medical students
  • Volunteer opportunities in NGO’s
  • Research opportunities, etc.

Don’t be a bookish medic

Bookish medics are those medics who spend all 24 hours in a day only on academic activities. This is not a very good practice if you want to graduate as a balanced doctor. Find out time for other physical and social activities like:

  • Sports
  • Visiting friends
  • Learning something new
  • Reading news and being current on global affairs
  • Reading self-help books and books on finance, etc.

My first attempt to create a blog was in my first year in medical school, though it failed. But the point I am trying to make is that you should not be that type of medic who always thinks there is no time to pursue your other passions. The only advice is that you should not allow your other passions to override the need to pass your medical exams.

Start studying on time

You must understand as a first year medical student that there is no time in medical school. Everything moves so fast starting from your first day in medical school till you become a doctor.

You must find a way to keep with the fast pace of the event. And this is why you need to start reading and preparing for your medical exams on time. If you can, try to be ahead of your course outline so that you can be able to revisit the topics again before your exams draw near.

Have a spiritual life

woman doing yoga inside a room
Have a spiritual life

You may never understand the role of having a balanced spiritual life till you face major crises in medical school like falling sick, being overwhelmed by the workload, working hard, and getting very low scores in assessments.

By spiritual life, I do not necessarily mean being religious. I actually mean being in tune with your inner man and being more conscious of yourself and your surroundings. Here are some tips you can follow to boost your spiritual life:

Never give up; it’s just the beginning

In medical schools, you will encounter lots of failures especially if you are an average medical student. In my experience, only about 2% of a whole class will never get a score below average throughout their stay in medical school.s

For the rest, they will have a series of ups and downs. But what matters the most is that you are not yet out of medical school, and you will be a doctor someday.

If you are already pressured by your little failures in your first year as a medical student, remember that you still have 4 more professional exams. And in my experience, the higher you go, the tougher it becomes, but the more resilient you become.

Have a mentor

Mentorship is an essential component of being a good medical school. In my opinion, mentorship can be direct or indirect. Throughout my stay in medical school, I have had lots of older colleagues whom I run to whenever I encounter any challenge, and they have been helpful in resolving them. But I never had a single person I can single out to call a mentor.

But I always had answers to all my questions and responses to all my calls for help. And I advise you to do the same.

Get the Medical Mnemonics Book For Medical Students

Final Words For A First Year Medical Student

If you follow all the above advice for medical students which I have outlined, I doubt if you will ever have any problems in your first year in medical school. You will adapt easily to the medical school environment.

All the above tips for first year medical students are from my own personal experience. It may be useful to you depending on your orientation, level of intelligence, and the medical school you attend. I wrote all these based on my view as an average medical student. And I am hopeful that it will help other medical students who are looking to maximize their first year in medical school to become better-balanced medics.

If you are a first year medical student, I strongly recommend that you follow this blog by subscribing to our newsletter and notifications to get an update whenever we publish a new post. I wish you the best in your first year in medical school!


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