Back to School: 5 Things Every New Med Student Needs to Crush It!

Med school usually starts in August, and if you are a new med student you could be feeling overwhelmed. No worries.  Here are 5 tips that I wish I knew when I started.  It’s going to be awesome! Go forth, young Jedi, and conquer!

First Aid for the USMLE  

First Aid is the bible for a first year med student.  It’s one of the things that most people use to study for the USMLE (United States Medical Licensure Exam).  I don’t think I used it to its full potential. If I had it to do over again, I would read the sections that corresponded to my coursework while we were studying that topic and make some notes in it.  That way, I’d have a more complete study guide when it came time to study for step 1.  You probably shouldn’t use it alone to study for your med school courses.  Try to find out where your professors test questions come from (things said in class, the official textbook, old tests) and make sure you know that.  Then you can fill your brain with USMLE nuggets.  Disclaimer:  Do not use First Aid as your only study material for the USMLE. Go to this link: and do the self assessments so you can figure out what knowledge gaps you have towards the end of your 2nd year.  Design your study plan based on that. It wouldn’t hurt you to do these practice questions, either:

An Hourly Calendar

I was, and still am, a huge nerd and have always liked making lists and schedules.  But I took it to a whole other level during med school.  I had an hourly calendar that I printed out and filled in every minute detail of my life.  I broke down my study material into what I was going to do each night.  For example, 8-9 PM: Review today’s Anatomy notes, 9-10 PM: Read Gross Anatomy chapter 5, pg 27-32.  I even scheduled time to eat and sleep.  You don’t have to be as OCD as me and color code each activity with a different color pen, but you need some sort of system.  You need a long-range plan to help you keep up and excel.  Try this link and scroll down to find a calendar that suits you.

Pre-made meals and study snacks

I would have died if it had not been for China Wonder and Negril.  But man can’t live off of fried rice and jerk chicken alone.  Sometimes you need food and don’t have time to go get it.  I’m sorry to say that I ate a lot of Hot Pockets, Chef-Boy-Ardee and tabasco Slim Jims during med school.  Those foods and a daily Mountain Dew are probably the reason why I have high blood pressure and acid reflux today.  Meal prep was a foreign concept to me.  I wasn’t really cooking much at that time. Do better by yourself.  Cook a large batch of something (spaghetti sauce, rice and beans, soup) and put it in plastic containers on the weekend.  Even if you don’t cook, you can buy that stuff pre-made or get a rotisserie chicken.  Then get some fruit and pre-washed salad to go with it. Because believe me, you do not want to waste precious study time washing lettuce.

An upperclassman mentor

My school had a program where every 1st year med student was assigned a 2nd year pal to give them study tricks, their first year books and the old tests.  Disclaimer: don’t get the old tests if it’s against your school’s policy.  If your school doesn’t have a pal system, you may remember someone from when you interviewed.  Or there may have been a 2nd year that was part of your orientation that seems receptive.  That 2nd year student survived what you’re getting ready to go through, so pick their brain (and maybe their bookshelf).

Study buddy

You’ll want to identify someone pretty early on that has similar study habits as you.  You don’t want to pick someone who has a photographic memory and is done studying in half an hour if you need to pour over the material for half the night in order to get it.  You also need a support system to keep you going when times get tough.  But mostly, you’re going to need someone to hit you when you start falling asleep and you have 100 more Histology slides to memorize.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah

5 thoughts on “Back to School: 5 Things Every New Med Student Needs to Crush It!

  1. China Wonder and Negril- my lifesavers too! I learned to shop on a weekend morning then cook and freeze for the week. I still do this years later so I am not eating hospital food.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Just think of the thousands of awesome people and physicians China Wonder and Negril nurtured along Georgia Ave. Ha!


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