The first year of medical school is exciting and pretty scary. You finally made it to med school after all the hard work you put in. Unfortunately, the work is not over and it only gets harder now that you’ve made it. The most difficult part of first year for me was trying to figure out how to study and what resources to use. I was often frustrated that I didn’t get into the groove even up until that last block of first year. I was told by many of my second year colleagues that it was completely normal to feel that way, which made me feel a little better. I guess I would say I had a better grasp on what works from me in the last two months of school during the pulmonary and renal blocks. I wanted to take some time to review what worked and offer some resources that you guys can explore during your first two years of medical school to see what works for you. I can’t say I have it completely figured out yet , but writing this post and taking time to reflect on what I used will actually help me narrow done what resources I loved and see what things I want to keep during second year and STEP 1 studying.
The first thing you need to realize is that your studying habits from undergrad most likely will not work in medical school. Unless you have photographic memory, you will have to adapt your study skills to accommodate the large volume of material you will be expected to know for each exam. In college, I used to write every single thing out in each class and I quickly found that I couldn’t do that anymore because it took way too much time. If this sounds like you, don’t be alarmed because there are people that still do this and it works for them! I still have to write certain things out because it helps me remember, but I have learned to cut back on how much I write.
The most important thing to do is to assess your learning style if you haven’t already. Are you visual, audio, tactile or a combination of these? I am visual-tactile, which can be frustrating because I often require things to be drawn out, but I also like to touch or require movement to help me remember things. Here is a quick quiz that can help you narrow down your learning style and help you avoid using resources that may not be best for how your brain works! Know that just because everyone is using a particular resource does not mean you have to if it does not work for your learning style! I made this mistake and ended up being nonproductive in some of our blocks because I got advice from people with different learning styles that swore by a particular resource.
I’ve broken down resources into categories so you can see what I used for particular disciplines. Links are provided when I mention particular names of resources.
Anatomy is probably my favorite thing to study because it’s a visual-tactile learner’s dream! You get to see the human body in real life and touch structures. I can close my eyes and still visualize parts of the body we learned throughout the year.
Resources I used include: Complete Anatomy found in the app store (there’s also Essential Anatomy which is FREE) and Netter’s flashcards. I prefer Complete over Essential especially for the musculoskeletal block because its more dynamic allows you to see movement. Before the practical the most important thing to do is spend as much time in the anatomy lab as possible and look at EVERY SINGLE CADAVER to see anatomical differences in each body. That is the key to success to acing the practicals. For practice questions, I would use BRS Embryology and Pre-Test Anatomy.
By far my weakest competency! I would often let the anxiety associated with it deter me from doing what needed to be done. When it came time for renal block, we learned all the physio in one week and I had to put in extra time to make sure I understood what was going on. I even spent time studying the physio when I should have been studying for my pathology exam. My major resources for physiology are BRS Physiology, First Aid for Organ Systems, and to a lesser extent Physiology by Costanzo.
The major factor here was doing practice questions. I used Pre-Test Physiology, Guyton-Hall Physiology, and UWorld (when it was time to study for the shelf exam).
Pathoma and First Aid for Organ Systems were most likely the reason my pathology competency was one of my highest. Pathoma is a subscription based learning service that comes with a thin textbook and video lectures done by Dr. Suttar. The thing with path is that it is mainly buzzwords so you have to find a way to review everything a number of times so that you automatically think IgA nephropathy if a patient had an upper respiratory infection 2 days ago and RBC casts in their urine (I’m only using this as an example because renal is semi fresh in my mind lol).
SketchyPath: I only started using the path portion of SketchyMedical towards the end of the year and I think it was a great resource in conjunction with Pathoma because I love have a visual memory hook for all the little details.
If you have been following my blog since the beginning then you already know about my love for SketchyMicro. Check out my previous post for the full details on how I used it to study during the mirco block.
I’m going to be very honest when I say that immuno is probably one of my weakest subjects. During this block- which was in our foundations portion of first year- I mainly relied on lecture slides. I spent some time reading How the Immune System Works which gave me some of the details that I may not have understood fro lecture. I would also watch my Armando’s videos on YouTube to between visualize what was going on. I know I’m going to have to really spend time reviewing it when my dedicated study period begins for Step 1.
Video resources I used were Boards and Beyond and Physeo which are both awesome board review videos that can help solidify concepts you may not have understood in lecture. Give Osmosis a try if you prefer a cartoon type visual. They have more anatomy, embryology, and physiology videos than just the pathology videos you get for free on YouTube. Osmosis even has flashcards and a study schedule available.
First Aid (FA) is basically the gold standard resource for first and second year med students. I did not start actively using it and annotating until the end of foundations (around December) and I think that’s okay because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I study and just used it as a reference textbook. I started heavily using it during our second system block which was cardiovascular (literally my worst hated and feared subject). Now that I have a better idea of how to use and annotate FA in a way that works for me, I'm going to get the 2018 version and go through it again during second year and dedicated. I will be doing a post on how I study for Step 1 most likely after I take the test next April/May.
ANKI: I often used decks made by my classmates, made my own for topics that I kept forgetting, and used pre-made decks such as ZANKI for more focused STEP 1 information.
Firecracker: I wish I would have started using it consistently in the beginning of the year when a fourth year suggested it me, but I was young and naïve back in September! Firecracker has companion cards for First Aid, Pathoma, and SketchyMirco so it’s great way to solidify information and quiz yourself, so that you are actively memorizing what you have just read.
Now onto how I studied on a day to day basis.
I played around with going to lecture and podcasting from home or the library so I guess I’m 50/50 on that depending on the lecturer and the subject matter. If I knew I was going to be frustrated by the way a certain lecturer taught, I would spend those 3 hours going through outside resources, then podcast later on. If I didn’t mind the lecturer, I went to class. The main reason I preferred going to class was that it forced me to have more structure: I knew I would be done with lecture by 12pm and could go on with my day. Often with podcasting I would take too long pausing or getting distracted by other things like my phone. On a good day, if I have already done the outside resources I could get through a lecture in half the time on 1.5 or 2x speed and then actually review. Most days weren’t that flawless especially if I had extracurricular activities or other mandatory courses like Patient Centered Medicine (PCM). There are benefits to both methods, so again figure out what works for you.
I would always try to do some sort of review and ideally it would be Firecracker or ANKI cards for whatever the topics were for that day. I would only do cards for the things I have reviewed rather than stressing myself out over 100 cards that I have never seen before. Then after front-loading on information using the resources listed above, I would start incorporating practice questions. The thing that most students do wrong is waiting until we feel “ready” to start doing practice questions. It took me months to realize (and after hearing from second years) that you need to start doing questions even when you don’t feel ready. Yes, you will get most of them wrong, but you will learn from them! Get them wrong and then tell yourself you will never get that type of question wrong again, try to understand the concept fully and why you got it wrong. READ THE ANSWER CHOICES CAREFULLY. Questions are your best teachers and indicators of whether you understand the material.
Practice, review, and ask your friends questions. I pretty much a self-studier because I often take a long time to process things and engrain them to memory, but I like to occasionally meet up with 1 or 2 other people and go over the tricky concepts and it really helps sometimes to talk things out with other people.
So, I know I listed a lot of resources above and it may seem overwhelming. My suggestion is to pick a few for one block and see how you like it. If it doesn't work for you try something else. Nothing here is set in stone for me and I am going to tweak things during second year. It's all about being flexible and doing what works for you. I will be solidifying my study methods over the next few months and will have an updated study routine post for you guys when I figure it out. If you have any questions about any of the resources or you try something here and it works for you let me know! Thanks for reading!