Medical School Advice for First and Second Year

Basic Science Textbooks You Absolutely Cannot Do Without

Anatomy - Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy + an Anatomy Dissector text + Doctors In Training Gross Anatomy and Radiology Study Guide

Pharmacology - Lippincott'sPharmacology and DIT’s Solid Pharmacology

Biochemistry - Lippincott's Biochemistry

Histology - Wheater's Functional Histology (color atlas)

Microbiology - Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple

Immunology - Blackwell’s How the Immune System Works or Lippincott’s Immunology

Pathology - Robbin's Pathologic Basis of Disease and/or WebPath (The Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medicine)

Physiology -   BRS Physiology

Neuroscience - Nolte's The Human Brain

History and Physical - Bates' Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking


Other First Year Texts You Will Not Regret Buying

General -
Stedman's Medical Dictionary

Planning - Careers in Medicine Website

Embryology- Human Embryology and Developmental Biology

Pocketbooks- Tarascon's Pharmacopoeia + Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy

Advice for Anatomy Class

  • Before lecture and lab, know the anatomy. Use Netter's along with the Doctors In Training Solid Anatomy Series, Gross Anatomy and Radiology Study Guide, and/or your lab dissector to identify structures to know prior to lab.
  • If you cannot identify the anatomy in Netter's, then you will not be able to identify it in lab.
  • Take notes in your Netter's during lecture. Highlight structures in Netter’s that you should know; it is much quicker than trying to write it down. Now when you go over your lecture notes you won't have to keep switching back and forth from your notes to your atlas.
  • Review your Doctors In Training Gross Anatomy and Radiology Study Guide before your anatomy exams for quick memory jogs on high-yield clinical and radiological correlations.


Building Your Curriculum Vitae (CV)

This is probably the last thing you want to think about right now, but it is important. You are probably thinking that since you finally made it to medical school, you can relax a little on the resume building. After the first few weeks of adjusting to your new environment, it is good to get involved in the school and community. The first two years often offer the most time for outside activities to build your CV for your residency application. When clerkships begin, it is difficult to fit in research, volunteering or extracurricular activities. Here is a list of categories that you will have to address on your residency application:

  • Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) status
  • Grades and Scores
  • Work Experience
  • Volunteer and Extracurricular Experience
  • Research Experience
  • Publications and Professional Presentations
  • Honors and Awards
  • Hobbies and Interests

Your undergraduate experiences are important to your CV, but they will not suffice for your residency application. Residency directors are interested in a pattern of interest in a field, community service and/or leadership.

If you have an interest in research, contact your school’s research director and start seeking research opportunities now. Often, faculty research is published on departmental websites, and you can contact the faculty member directly. If your school is limited in opportunities, then seek out public options or opportunities at other medical schools. As residency positions have become more competitive, it is even more important to begin building a solid CV early on in medical school.


What is AOA?

Alpha Omega Alpha is a medical honor society. Students are elected into this honor society in their 3rd and 4th years of medical school based on academic standing (at least top 15 % of class), strength of CV, and peer evaluations. Educate yourself early about this honor society because there are some competitive residency specialties and some residency programs that are highly selective for AOA. For more information, check out the AOA website.

 How Do I Optimize the Summer Between First and Second Year?

In the summer after first year, you could choose to volunteer, work, travel, shadow a physician in an area of interest, perform research or do some combination of these. If your CV needs some bulking up, now is a good time to focus on at least one area. It is also important to spend time relaxing, so set aside some time for family and friends. International medical volunteer work can always be done with friends, is typically relaxing, can be intertwined with research and is hugely rewarding.

Volunteering Opportunities

If you’re looking for something within the U.S., there are two very good databases for volunteering opportunities, both medically-related and not:


Research Opportunities

Even more so than with volunteering opportunities, your school is the first place to check for research opportunities. Most schools have an office specifically for placing students with ongoing research projects and their researchers. The protocol for going about getting started on your research will vary from school to school. One method to find a potential mentor is to browse your school’s website and read about what is going on in the various labs. If you are interested in clinical research and developing a mentoring relationship with faculty in a very competitive specialty such as orthopedics or dermatology, visit the department’s website to see if faculty research interests are listed. Research faculty publications on your own and familiarize yourself with what they work they have been doing and how they credit students in their publications.

Once you have a mentor in mind, in most medical school environments it is fine to contact them, either by email or phone, to discuss potential projects and define your role in the research. Keep in mind that not every researcher makes a good mentor. It may be tempting to work with a famous researcher that publishes frequently, but their impressive research publication list does not necessarily mean they are a good mentor. If you have choices, try to find a mentor with good communication skills, who enjoys working with students and who is open to letting you be a part of the publication of the results of the study in which you participate. It is fine to ask a faculty mentor if you can talk to some other students that have completed projects with him/her to determine how they fit the research project into their schedules.

Many institutions conduct research in cycles (e.g., 10 week cycles). Keep in mind, however, that your mentor may be hoping you will work on this project for longer than just the summer, so it is the most professional thing to do to be honest with your mentor and with yourself about how much time you wish to commit to the project.

Every research project and student-mentor relationship is different, but some basic guidelines apply to every student. Be on time, be a good communicator, work hard, seek out and welcome feedback and always maintain academic integrity. You will gain valuable knowledge and experience through your time performing research. This experience will come in handy when it comes time to apply to residency!


What About Second Year?

  • Keep up the hard work—do not become lazy now!
  • Continue to work on your CV—you might have discovered a new interest over the summer that you can carry into 2nd year. Increase your involvement to include a leadership role, especially if you are thinking of going into a competitive specialty or would like to match at a competitive training program.
  • Join a club that grants you access to a clinical experience (even if it’s just observing or volunteering)—you will be glad to have had some patient exposure prior to 3rd year. No shaky hands on your first patient encounter!
  • Think about frequenting an organization or starting an organization that exposes you to a specialty of interest (i.e., anesthesia interest group, dermatology interest group, etc.). This will hopefully help you access faculty before you begin clinical rotations in Year 3. Begin a lecture series where facultytalk for 20-30 minutes on their research or clinical interests.
  • If you want to boost your USMLE or COMLEX score, then check out the Doctors In Training Step 1 Review Course.
  • If you need help with a Step 1 Study Calendar—a calendar that fits your specific study style and study timeline—then contact our team of student advisors at [email protected]


Things to Consider When Scheduling Third Year Courses

Before you know it, it will be time to schedule your 3rd year clinical rotations. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • The hardest courses, from most demanding to least demanding, are usually: Surgery > Internal Medicine > ObGyn > Pedi. Don't schedule these courses when you need free time (e.g., for moving, wedding planning, family stuff). Some people like to get harder courses out of the way, space them out, or to delay them. Choose whatever suits you best.
  • Your first rotation should NOT be in a field that you are considering as a career. Transitioning into 3rd year can be quite a shock, and you won't look very adept your first rotation. Faculty submit comments on your clinical performance for your MSPE (formally known as the Dean’s letter) on each rotation, so you want to be at your best when rotating on the service in which you are most interested.
  •  Like many students, you may prefer to rotate through the field you are most interested in before winter break. This gives you time before 4th year to evaluate your career decision. However, make sure you have adequate skill and experience from your previous clerkships to perform well before rotating on that service.
  • Know that Pediatrics is more demanding in the winter months because more children are sick during this time than any other time of year. If you are interested in Pedi, maybe you want to do this rotation in the winter. If you are not interested in Pedi, you may want to avoid a Pedi winter rotation.
  • Taking Internal Medicine as your last 3rd year rotation will help your Step 2 score.
  • Taking Internal Medicine before Surgery will boost your score on the Surgery shelf exam.
  • Use the Doctors In Training Solid Internal Medicine Series to learn the high-yield information that you need to perform well on your rotations, prepare for shelf exams or prepare for your USMLE Step 2 CK and Step 3 exams.
  • Use The Doctors In Training Solid OB/GYN Series to learn the high-yield information that you need to perform well on your rotations, prepare for shelf exams, or review an area in which you feel deficient.
  • Psych and Family Medicine tend to be less demanding courses; however, the shelf exams are equally as challenging. Schedule these courses when you need more time for other things. However, be aware that these clinical experiences vary and at many institutions, these rotations can be very demanding and rich learning opportunities. Get to know your individual institution clinical experiences from a student affairs advisor, academic affairs dean, or students who have completed these experiences.

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. Our course presents the high yield information you need to know and is updated annually to reflect student feedback.