Tips for Surviving the First Semester of Medical School

How is David Allen ’16 surviving Medical School at The Ohio State University? Read on below!

A large myth that continues to persist with people inside, and outside, of Medical School is that you study 100% of the time and forget about all free time for the next four years. I can safely say that no one does that. People can be intense, and hard working, and yet still have a life outside of medical school. In fact, I would go so far to say that you must have a life outside of medical school or it can be just a tad overwhelming (at least for me J). That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice grades or anything of that sort, but it does mean that you need to figure out a constructive way to take time outside of your computer. So, with that being said, here are some tips!

  • Free Time (as mentioned above)
    • Working Out, video games, hanging out with friends, reading Scandinavian crime fiction (me), etc.
    • Try something new, some of my friends like to sew or bake food.
      • If you read this post and this emboldens you to bake food I expect a brownie once a week.
  • Have a passion for what you are learning
    • This sounds cheesy and cliché (it is both!) however sometimes the material can be dry and it can be hard to see the big picture. Understand that all of this knowledge, even the smallest, tiniest detail could help you become the best doctor you can be. You never know when all of this could come into play.
  • Become Friends with Your Classmates
    • Another cheesy item! May as well call this post Cheddar! Becoming friends with your classmates makes every day a blessing, and makes you appreciate your life even more. I am so honored to go to a school where everyone is so much smarter than me as it is motivating and rewarding to know how much I can learn from every one of them.
  • Don’t worry too much about your specialty right now
    • According to a report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2008; the wide majority of people change their specialty during the course of their medical school career, often it is even more than once [Compton et. al. 2008]. Thus, it is important to keep an open mind. Personally: I really like Pediatric Anesthesiology with a *subspecialty* in pain medicine, however, I am always welcome for some other specialty to blow my mind!
    • Link:
  • Repetition
    • You should try to study the material you have just learned as often as possible. For instance, let’s say I have four lectures one day, I want to go through these lectures and take notes as well as at least transiently go through the previous day’s notes.
    • The volume of material can be overwhelming (it certainly is for me sometimes). The way to get through this is to consistently study previous big picture topics. Save the small stuff for later!
  • Notecards*
    • I add this here tentatively because some people are against it. However, for drugs or muscle origins and insertions I think it is very helpful
      • Some helpful Apps: Anki (highly recommended, shout out to Krishna) and Quizlet (very good).
  • Pathoma
    • Pathoma is an incredibly helpful and digestible resource to help with some of the tougher concepts. It comes with a book and an online subscription to very high-quality videos. It is expensive, but worth it.
    • Link: (your school may offer discounts, keep a look out!)
  • First Aid
    • First Aid (any edition will do, and there are plenty of free copies online: beware of viruses!) is a very helpful big picture, high-yield outline of bigger topics that you might encounter throughout your curriculum.
      • Since it is pretty barebones I usually save this for before exams, as it is a nice refresher. However, for Step One it may be a bit more practical.
      • Cheap copy: FIRST AID
  • OneNote
    • While I don’t use this app, it is a gorgeous and accessible form of annotative notes. Honestly, it may be the best overall app ever to take notes on. Very fun too.
  • Microsoft Word
    • This is my personal preference and if you get adept at using this program you can effectively manage and organize your sections very well; however, this is a harder program to use completely than OneNote, and less appealing.
  • YouTube**
    • Okay, so here’s the deal: YouTube CAN be a helpful resource for topics relating to Medical School, however, each curriculum is going to have their own nuances and addendums when teaching and the YouTube videos will not reflect those nuances. Thus, use caution when looking at YouTube videos. Khan Academy is probably the best.
  • For Anatomy: Acland, NetAnatomy, Grey’s Anatomy, Complete Anatomy, Grant’s Dissector.
    • These are all pretty standard for any anatomy class however I add them here just in case. All very good resources for the most part. You should be granted online access to all through your university library.
  • Step One Review
    • For the most part, at the end of your First Two Years at Medical School, you will have to take a big, fun, 8-hour exam called STEP ONE!
    • You DO NOT have to do much your first year for this, however, if you would like to have some fun and do some extra work: PastTestKaplanUWorld
  • Free Clinic Shifts
    • Do them, they are fun!
  • Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)
    • You will hear literally 100s of different resources to study with. Keep it simple and only use the ones you can manage effectively. When in doubt, stick to the class notes J.
  • Everyone is Different
    • As mentioned before, everyone is very different in regards to how they best study. So it’s important to see what works best for you.
    • Likely, what worked in undergrad may not work in Medical School.
  • “Passing = M.D.”
    • If you go online and look up comments about Medical School, you may not see the most flattering items or comments. This track of life can be hard and blinding, and sometimes frustrating, but know that if you pass, you will do just fine :). Remember, you made it into this school for a reason; there is a group of highly trained physicians who think you are a special candidate.
  • Some Websites to Avoid:,,
    • These people are not chill.

You can contact me at: or


[1] Compton, M. T., Frank, E., Elon, L., & Carrera, J. (2008). Changes in US medical students’ specialty interests over the course of medical school.Journal of general internal medicine23(7), 1095-1100.

This post originally appeared on UpByFive