I should probably call this Med School Series #3 because in a perfect world, number 2 would be about applying to med school and what I did in college, blah blah blah. Number 3 would then be about my experience during 1st year. But I don’t feel like writing about college and I want to write about first year so I’m making this #2. Sorry. I promise I will post the next one soon.
First lesson of first year: MS 1 = Medical Student 1 (or first year medical student)
Through your years of med school you will be referred to as an MS1, MS2, MS3 (me right now!), and MS4. I had no idea what this actually meant when I was first referred to as an MS1. The remainder of this post will focus on my experience as an MS1.
For organization and clarities sake, I will divide this post up into topics including Classes, Social life, Fitness, and Food- all the necessities. If I was prioritizing this the way I really want to, food would be #1, followed by fitness, then social, then class. But in the real world class is number 1.
Before I get started I think I should say that again: class is number one. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself to be sacrificing most things for studying and going to class. During your first and second years you friends will understand, you family will support you, and everyone accepts “I’m in med school” as the best excuse ever.
My first year at Indiana University School of Medicine included anatomy, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, physiology, and intro to clinical medicine 1 (the class where we learned how to take a history and do a physical exam).
IU is special in that if you’re an Indianapolis campus student, you aren’t required to go to class. Some people always go to class because they know that if they were to skip a class or two, they would never catch up. I quickly realized that I had the discipline to stay on top of things without going to class. Sitting in the library all day or staying at home to study (or going to starbucks, panera, etc.) was the most efficient way for me to learn. I found that if I actually went to class, I would zone out during lectures. If I went to lab, my genius classmates would stress me out with all their knowledge. For the first few weeks in anatomy lab, I would leave lab every day freaking out/on the verge of tears because some kids are just brilliant and could go through the entire cadaver identifying things I had never heard of.
If I could give one piece of advice for first year, I would say it is to figure out how you study best and figure it out FAST and then do that. For me, there would be no way I could learn from just reading a book and highlighting a few things. I have to make outlines and notes that summarize my lectures and then write them up on a white board one million times until I have every last detail memorized. Weird I know, but it works!! I have to constantly quiz myself and make up questions. I think to myself “if I was making an exam what questions would I ask about this material”. Then I try to guess what topics will be tested and how they could trick me.
At IU we rely mainly on our notes for class exams. I didn’t buy many textbooks. But for finals, that’s a completely different story. We took NBME (national board of medical examiners) finals which are standardized. I found the BRS book series to be extremely helpful. First Aid is also a great thing to buy first year and just start looking through. You will sleep with it under your pillow as a second year.
Books I found useful:
The Color Atlas of Anatomy (if you can find a PDF version of this, I would HIGHLY recommend it. It has actual photographs of cadavers not illustrations and it is an amazing study tool for anatomy lab).
BRS Cell Biology/Histology
Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple
First Aid for Step 1
Some things I wish I had done first year:
- I wish I had studied in groups more. Some people formed study groups that they stuck with through first and second year. I pretty much studied on my own with the exception of the night before an exam when I would review with my friend Kevin. Studying alone gets lonely and boring at times, so I wish I would have connected with a group.
- I wish I would have taken biochem notes in First Aid. I was a biochem rockstar first year but when I went back at the end of second year to review biochem, I didn’t remember ANYTHING!!! I wish I would have had notes in my First Aid to help jog my memory or help fill in the gaps.
- I wish I would have asked for help. I struggled a ton with anatomy at the beginning. I don’t know why it was so difficult for me, but I just couldn’t get it. It took all semester for me to pull my grade up until finally I had a grade I was happy with. I studied my behind off for the final and pulled my grade up one last time and ended up doing really well. But it was torture let me tell you! I cried over my anatomy notes way too many times! Sounds ridiculous I know. So I wish I would have reached out to some anatomy jock who could have helped me at the beginning.
Let me start by saying you can absolutely keep your social life during medical school. I stayed in touch with all my girlfriends and even though I didn’t see them as much as I would have liked to, we are still close and they were there for me through the first 2 years. You also meet tons of people through med school and become really close with your classmates. Some smaller campuses with classes of 15 students become a little family! I made a lot of great friends but I did feel that a draw-back of not going to class was that I missed out on some of the social aspect of class. I would go days without seeing anyone because I was at home studying. But that was my choice so I shouldn’t complain.
Our class has 2 social chairs who plan fun events and parties for after exams. Groups in our class go running together, travel together, everything! Basically, your social life is up to you. I must admit, I am a loser at heart and after an exam the last thing I want to do is go to a bar. I would rather go to yoga or curl up on the couch and watch the Real Housewives. I’ve also skipped out on tons of social events because I was hanging out with friends from college or spending time with my boyfriend Kyle.
I’ve also skipped out on tons of social events because I was studying. I put in a TON of work during the first 2 years and there were many nights I stayed in to catch up on lectures or get ahead for upcoming exams. It’s all a choice. But if you’re a social butterfly, don’t fret!
Best advice- JOIN A GYM!! Go to the gym in the morning or go to the gym after class in the afternoon. Put your notes on the elliptical and review that days notes for 30 minutes. Then take another 30 minutes without your notes just working out and de-stressing. When I was studying for exams, I would take a 20 minute run around my block or do a 15 min HIIT workout in my room; just to do something! Fitness is the best stress reliever I have found. Even if you’re worried about spending time working out, you never regret it. That is something I need to remind myself all the time.
Fitness means the world to me and I think I will constantly be striving to be in better shape, run faster, lift heavier. But like I said at the beginning of this post, school comes first. I know that I have my whole life to workout. I only have 3 years to put together an application to a residency for a career I will have for the next 30 years. So at the end of the day, if I have to study I do skip workouts. I try not to feel guilty about it.
If you’re a team sports person, I’ve found that med schools put together lots of basketball leagues, soccer, flag football, running clubs, all kinds of stuff! Unfortunately I’m the most uncoordinated person in the world so I will stick to the treadmill 🙂
In my experience, tons of people in school eat out ALL THE TIME! For me, this would be a recipe for disaster! I have zero self control and so the best way for me to stay feeling good about my food choices is to pack lunch. EVERY DAY. Once you get into the habit of always bringing your own food, it’s not a big deal. I love making tons of food on Sunday because then I know I don’t have to worry about what to eat. I just grab whatever I made out of the fridge, throw it in a tupperware, and hit the road!
During first year, I would often eat crappy stuff while I was studying for exams. I might order Jimmy Johns with a friend and add a chocolate chip cookie. Or I would buy food at Starbucks because I didn’t want to stop studying and leave for dinner. This really took a toll on me because after exams I felt TERRIBLE!!! It made it even harder to get into my workout routine again. Second year, I was much better at packing tons of healthy snacks for study days. It’s all about being prepared!
***Once you finish First Year, you should have the biggest sense of accomplishment! It is the hardest year for most. Go on vacation! Lay around and watch trashy TV!! Go to yoga and relax! And then go do something productive like research, shadowing, or volunteering.****
Kyle looks thrilled in that pic doesn’t he? I promise we had fun. He was probably just sick of me taking pictures every 5 minutes because 3 days before that I had been trapped in a library for a month.
Phew! So there you have it! First year done! I hope a tiny fraction of this post can help someone. Please remember that this is my opinion only and I know tons of people had different experiences. If you have something to add, please please please do!!! I would love to chat! Comment below 🙂
Have a great day!!