How to Make the Most of your Second Year of Med School

Congrats! You survived your first year of medical school. Are you feeling deprived of sleep? Does your brain feel like it’s been used for basketball practice? Well get ready for year two because that’s where the fun really begins!

All joking aside—working your way through your first year is a tremendous accomplishment, and it is a testament to your hard work and dedication that you are moving on to pursue your goal. So we sincerely congratulate you on your achievement.

During your first year, you learned an assortment of different subjects: Anatomy, Biochemistry, Genetics, and Physiology, to name a few. You absorbed large chunks of information from each of these subjects, but now what are you supposed to do with these chunks? That’s where your second year of med school comes in.

What is the second year all about?

In second year, you’ll integrate the subjects you learned during your first year and start to understand how they work together. Think of your second year as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You already have the bread, the jelly, and the peanut butter. The next step is for the peanut butter and the jelly to stick to the bread and interact, forming one, mighty monument of deliciousness. (My apologies for the corny metaphor; writing on an empty stomach has its consequences). The point is, all the bits and pieces of information you learned in your first year will interweave so that you can see the bigger picture. And soon, you will be ready to apply your knowledge in real-life clinical situations.

This year is not just about basic science and the human organ system. In the blog “The Doctor’s Tablet,” Joshua Nosanchuck, M.D. and Allison Kutner call the second year of medical a transition from “classroom to bedside.” During rotations, you will get a taste for the different medical specialties and begin to develop clinical and interpersonal skills that will help you become a strong team member and attentive care provider. Your first time interacting with patients might be a little awkward and uncomfortable, but with practice you’ll know how to communicate with and listen to their needs while fostering mutual trust and respect.
Doctor Giving Injection

There’s no point in denying it: the second year of med school is tough. The hours and hours you’ll spend studying and attending class are merely playtime before the Big Kahuna. The One Ring To Rule Them All. I’m talking about the USMLE Step 1, of course! You’ve probably heard a few horror stories about this exam that is an important determinant during residency matches.

Now, take deep breaths and go to your Happy Place for a moment.  Just like there’s no point denying the second year of med school is tough, there’s no point denying that the USMLE Step 1 is looming ahead and that, eventually, you will have to face it. However, you have time to mentally prepare yourself and organize a plan of action. And we’re not going to leave you in the dust. Doctors In Training is with you every step of the way, and we’ve gathered some advice on how to make the most of your second year.

Make your life easier

Here are some tips to keep in mind for your second year to make every day a little easier. It’s better to be prepared ahead of time with an action plan than look back and regret the ways you could have made life easier!

  1. Use a Qbank. Qbanks are highly effective tools when preparing for the USMLE Step 1. Questions often vary in difficulty, reflecting the types of questions you might see on your exam. We recommend you complete approximately 2,000 questions in timed, mixed mode. In addition, you should study the question explanations.
  2. Carry around a comprehensive review book. Books such as First Aid fit easily into a backpack. Starting in January, annotate your comprehensive review book using your class notes and you’ll make studying for the USMLE Step 1 easier. If you are using the Doctors In Training Step 1 Review Course, you can also annotate using Part 1 questions.
  3. Get a plan. It’s important to have a strategy for what and when you will study. Many students find the structure of the Doctors In Training USMLE Step 1 Review Course beneficial to their exam preparations. Likewise, our course presents the high yield information you need to know and is updated annually to reflect student feedback.
  4. Use your breaks wisely. Of course you should take advantage of spring and winter breaks to relax and refresh yourself. You don’t want to burn yourself out. However, keep in mind that these are prime opportunities to get a head start on your studying. Use your free time wisely and the best way you see fit!
  5. Be open with your friends and family. Explain to them that the second year of medical school requires your complete, focused attention and that your schedule will be unpredictable. You might not be able to attend a family function planned months or even weeks in advance.

Plan ahead for the future

It’s tempting to think only of the present, to concentrate on the hurdles that are closest. But to truly succeed with flying colors, it’s essential that you think of the long run. Below is a list of items you should fulfill throughout your second year of med school.

  1. Read. Familiarize yourself with a well-respected medical journal, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Read case reports and present them to your peers. This will be good practice for when you present patients to attending physicians.
  2. Keep building your CV. Update your CV regularly. Increase your involvement to include a leadership role, especially if you would like to match in a competitive specialty.
  3. Join a club or start an organization. Join a club that gives you access to clinical experience or a specialty of interest. This way, you will have patient exposure before your third year and might have access to faculty before you begin clinical rotations.
  4. Start studying early. You won’t be familiar with all subjects tested on the USMLE Step 1, but begin studying the subjects you do know during your first semester.

We know you have what it takes to achieve success in your second year of med school. You’ve already made huge accomplishments by getting into med school and surviving your first year. You’re determined, perseverant, and intelligent. Plus you have Doctors In Training rooting for you!

For more advice and helpful tools, please visit our advising page.


About DIT Advising Team

The Doctors In Training Student Advising Team offers many advisory services including the following: customizing individual study plans for USMLE Step 1/ COMLEX Level 1 or USMLE Step 2 CK/ COMLEX Level 2, advising students with respect to combating everyday stress and test anxiety and preparing students for the residency application process.
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