5 First Year Medical School Studying Tips

Medical school can be a lot to handle, so for incoming students, medical school studying tips are critical to not just survive, but thrive, in your first year.

Congratulations! You’ve spent the last 4+ years of your life getting into medical school and you’ve finally made it—you got the letter, you blasted your acceptance all over social media and your town’s local newspaper, and you’ve started practicing putting “Dr.” in front of your name.

And then you remember: You’re about to embark on a huge undertaking. You’ll be in medical school for four years—a period of time in your life that will be both invigorating and challenging—and you want to make sure you’re setting yourself up to succeed in all aspects of your life. It helps to start strong, so here are some medical school studying tips to guide you through your first year in medical school.


Remember that you’re a human being, in and outside of medicine.

5 First Year Medical School Studying Tips

This piece of advice is number one, because remember—in a sea of high-volume lectures, anatomy practicals, clinical skills exams, among a host of other things you’re expected to do as a medical student—it’s easy to neglect your own personal needs, and the whole experience can sometimes feel a little dehumanizing. We get it—you spent a big chunk of your life getting into medicine, so it feels like your whole personality has been designed to become a doctor—but you’re still a person outside of your career, and it’s important to continue to invest time into that.

That’s why #1 in our medical school studying tips is to find the little things outside of medical school that remind you that you’re a human being. Whether that means finding some cool spots if you just moved into a new city, making time to go watch a movie or concert, playing video games, joining a student interest group, or calling your family and friends every once in a while (yes, they still exist while you’re in medical school) it’s so important. Working these into your life will keep you grounded, stave off burn out, and make you a better health care provider overall.


Figure out what study style is best for you, and seek out the resources that best fit that study style.

5 First Year Medical School Studying Tips

What’s the best way to study in medical school?” probably has the world record somewhere for the question most asked by incoming medical students. And for good reason! You’re in medical school to build that fund of knowledge that you’ll be using as a doctor, and it’s a lot of information to understand and memorize. That’s why our second medical school studying tip is to figure out what your best learning style is, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s a good time to experiment and see what works best for you.

If you’re someone who struggles to learn without other people around, find a study group where you can work through tough problems with your friends. If you’ve got time in the car, on the train, or walking to class, there are a handful of medical study guide podcasts out there that you can listen to while you go out for a walk. And if you’re feeling extra crafty, there’s probably someone a few classes ahead of you who took amazing notes—you know, the ones that are perfectly formatted with lots of color coding—that have already been distributed around. If you can find that homegrown study guide, you’re gold.

Obviously we’re biased, but we think Sketchy is an effective study resource no matter your learning style—we create visual lessons that use engaging stories and clever memory hooks to make it easier to remember topics in medicine.


Be proactive and get a head start on figuring out what specialties you might be interested in.

5 First Year Medical School Studying TipsWe know you have your heart set on becoming a neurosurgeon, and yeah, we won’t ever change your mind, you’ve been wanting to become one since you were five years old. But becoming a neurosurgeon takes a lot of work and can have some very specific match requirements! We know it’s early, but check out the NRMP Match Tool to get ahead and see what it’s going to take to match into the specialty you want so you can plan accordingly. You can also check out this free resource on how to choose your speciality. It's full of information on what to do each year in med school to lead you to the right specialty.

It doesn’t hurt to also start thinking about other specialties you might be interested in as well! Don’t be afraid to ask your attendings or professors about their specialties or why they chose them, and request opportunities to shadow! By and large, they like giving advice and being helpful to medical students. (Don’t ask residents though, they’re suffering enough.)

Love research? Start making a list of research mentors who are doing projects that you’re interested in, and reach out to them. You never know—they may have an opportunity for a medical student to join their team!


Take care of your mental, physical, and emotional health.

5 First Year Medical School Studying TipsThis is kind of an offshoot of #1 in this medical school studying tips series, but no less important. Medical school can get really challenging and intense sometimes—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Don’t listen to the folks who say, directly or indirectly, that your emotional health doesn’t matter, because it does. Yes, it’s important to manage your emotions to maintain your professionalism as a future doctor, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid dealing with them altogether. You’re human!!!

Find out whether your medical school offers confidential mental health services; you may be surprised to find out that a certain number of therapy sessions are provided every year for medical students depending on the school.

And on the topic of physical health, we know it’s really tempting to reach out for that giant bag of salty potato chips while you’re trying to shove a book’s worth of neuroanatomy into your head, but it’s important to eat healthy, get as much sleep as you can, and exercise regularly. You might be surprised at how much better you feel while studying if you maintain these healthy medical school studying tips.


Don’t buy the f*$¢kin ophthalmoscope. 

image5Unless your school explicitly says that you MUST have an ophthalmoscope, and unless you have your heart set on ophthalmology and nothing will ever, ever, EVER change your mind, leave it out of your incoming medical student diagnostic kit. Most ophthalmoscopes are available in the exam rooms where you’ll be doing your clinical skills exams and you’re better off spending that money on the copious amounts of coffee you’ll consume while studying.

We hope this helps! Love, Your Sketchy Friends

Also check out our post on NEW SKETCHY WORKBOOKS to learn how to get yours today!

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