What Does First Year in Medical School Look Like?

August 17

Table of Contents

You succeeded in getting into medical school. You have finally accomplished the first of many objectives leading to a future in healthcare after spending months applying and years participating in volunteer and extracurricular activities. 

The first year of medical school is highly competitive and frequently has a demanding schedule, so the road ahead will be complex. As the initial thrill fades, you could feel anxious about your first year of medical school.

However, this doesn’t mean you cannot have a good time. You will better manage stress and set yourself up for success if you start planning early and setting expectations for your first year of medical school. 

Are you curious about what your first year in medical school will be like? This article can offer helpful insights for managing your busy schedule.

What to Expect in the First Year of Medical School? 

Beginning medical school may be both thrilling and terrifying. Most students will also need to relocate to a new city or state and become accustomed to their new surroundings, in addition to the challenging course load.

In contrast to college, where students choose their studies and fit in extracurricular activities, the medical school has a defined timetable established by the institution. The program itself is arduous, even though it could be a relief.

Aside from all of these, there are significant changes from being an undergrad to an actual freshman in medical school.

Here is what to expect in your first year in medical school:

Grading System

The grading system is one of the significant adjustments you will encounter as you move from undergraduate to medical school. 

First- and second-year programs are increasingly using pass/fail grading schemes. This grading technique limits the pressure and stress from conventional grading systems while maintaining institutional integrity.

A pass or fail grade can help you feel more at ease and connect you with your classmates. It can also decrease the focus on being competitive, even if you don't think the grade truly reflects your academic abilities.

Course Curriculum

The courses needed during the first year of medical school are comparable, even though fundamental degree requirements and schedules differ from school to school. 

Classes on physiology, anatomy, and chemistry may be the main topics covered, giving you a solid basis to build as you advance your study.

Even though you will not likely contact patients until your third year of medical school, cadaver dissection will give you plenty of opportunities for practical training. Studies in the first year frequently incorporate this activity.

One of two scheduling models is used by the majority of medical schools. Your school may mandate that you take several courses across several months or focus on one class weekly. 

You will have to spend most of your first year in lecture halls, classrooms, and occasionally labs, regardless of your university's learning system.

Standardized Tests

It would help if you planned for upcoming standardized testing throughout your first year of medical school. 

To apply for residency, you must pass USMLE Steps 1 and 2. You may take these tests earlier if you feel prepared, even though most students take them during their third year of school.

You will need study time in addition to that required for course exams if you decide to take Step 1 during your first year. 

You might be tempted to put off studying because you will need to register for these examinations far in advance. You will constantly feel as though you have time to put things off.

Before you believe you need to, begin your USMLE Steps preparation. This will spare you from studying intensely in the days or weeks leading to the exam.

Extracurricular Activities

As you begin medical school, it's important to understand that you may need to make some sacrifices in your social life. 

While it's necessary to take breaks and spend time with friends, there may be times when you need to prioritize your studies and take a break from other activities. It's all about finding a balance that works for you and helps you succeed in your academic and personal goals.

You have decided to pursue a career that has the power to influence how someone lives their life. You must establish your eligibility to obtain a license to practice medicine.

In medical school, study groups and cohorts are typical. They can assist you in maintaining your knowledge of the necessary course information while still interacting with others. Joining a study group might help you achieve academic objectives while satisfying your social needs.


Medical education is costly. It would be best to make financial arrangements for the following four years of medical school during your first year there. You should monitor your credit because you will likely need to borrow money for school.

It's a good idea to be mindful of your credit usage and payment habits, especially if you plan on taking out school loans. Try to have only a few credit cards, and always pay your bills on time. 

If you're working while attending school, it's also essential to save some money in case of unexpected expenses. Having a financial cushion can make a big difference in times of emergency.

Check out the financial tools the American Association of Medical Colleges provided for more details about paying for medical school and managing student debt.

10 Tips for Surviving Your First Year of Medical School

Undoubtedly, getting into medical school is a tough nut to crack. Seeing your name on the list makes you feel accomplished and motivates you to put out your best effort in the upcoming years.

You have high hopes for yourself as a new medical student but may need to know what to anticipate. The upcoming academic years will be different from the previous ones. Here is our advice for what is to come!

Attend Every Orientation Program

Throughout the first two weeks, your school will plan several tours, introductory lectures, student panels, and social activities. Consider these options carefully.

Display your engagement and openness to learning to your advisers and program directors. 

Take note of the tools you have at your disposal for academic guidance, counseling, and student health.

Find Mentors and Establish Connections with Them

Mentors offer you the direction and advice you need to advance your profession. 

Additionally, they will assist you in establishing contacts in the professional world that will help you find residencies, fellowships, and other possibilities. 

Keeping in mind that mentoring relationships must be mutually beneficial, be ready to pique your mentors' interest in assisting you in growing by showcasing your talent and potential.

Prioritize and Pay Attention in Class

Most students feel overwhelmed by the information offered, even on the first day of class, but this is typical. The amount of knowledge in medical school is overwhelming. 

Still, as you progress through your courses, you will learn to prioritize it and concentrate on the pertinent facts. Try to follow along with the lecturer on the first day and thoroughly review the materials after class.

Find Out How You Like to Learn

Discover your study skills, including whether you learn best in a group setting (the most effective method to learn), if you are better at teaching people about a subject you know, or whether you prefer to study in peace and quiet alone. 

If you study alone, explore the campus to choose your best location. If lockdown is an option, visit the university library.

Accept Your Failures

Trust us when we say it is normal to experience overwhelm throughout the first year of medical school. 

You will experience those unexpected breakdowns if you feel worn out, homesick, or unsatisfactory in your social or academic life. 

If you need to stand back, close your eyes, and cry your heart out, just be gentle with yourself. We are only humans! To take a few days off and not study at all is acceptable. Remember to get back up after falling.

Find Time To Explore Your Career Options

The summer after the first year, just before the second year, is typically used by students to earn enrichment experiences in clinical settings, research, health policy, community service, or global health. 

To help medical students afford these experiences, numerous specialty societies and an increasing number of residency programs provide scholarships.

Consider using one or more away rotations to expose yourself to other specialties. 

Last, take advantage of the career-advising opportunities and special interest groups your medical school offers when your schedule permits.

Keep Your Reasons in Mind

There will be times as a medical student when you want to give up, generally after an 80-hour study week. 

Keep a reminder of your motivation for pursuing a medical career and your intended impact on society close at hand.

Does the image depict a loved one who perished from a (now incurable) illness? Is it a drawing you made as a child of your white-suited future?

Whatever motivation you had to complete your undergraduate studies, ace the MCAT, and enroll in medical school is a good reason. Let it serve as a ray of hope for you on your darkest days.

Ask for Help If You Need It

You should visit Student Services and ensure you get assistance if you need help adjusting or managing any challenges. 

These are secure areas with qualified staff that can provide the most outstanding guidance and assistance and ensure your well-being while away from home.

Recognize That It May Appear to Be Impossible

To keep up with the information and then master it on a weekly exam seemed unachievable. 

Although the classes and the material initially appear daunting, remember that thousands of others have already completed them.

You are in medical school because you completed the demanding premedical program and are thus uniquely suited to succeed. Although it may appear impossible at first, it is feasible.

Know the Difference Between Stressing Out and Working Hard

This is the most important cardinal rule or piece of advice. Stress-free, disciplined workhorse behavior is possible. 

Work hard when you have a window of opportunity to study, then relax and take it easy, knowing you did your best.

We guarantee that if you keep in mind these ten things, you will not only make it through medical school but thrive! 

Maintain a good outlook at all times, try to get better each day, and, most importantly, never lose focus and remember that you are a person and a medical student. Good luck!

10 Mistakes to Avoid in the First Year of Medical School

During your initial years of training, you may make several common mistakes due to the strain of demanding courses and establishing yourself in a new environment. 

To maximize your time in medical school, avoid the following ten common mistakes.

Skipping Classes

You might be tempted to forgo attending lectures and only study the subject from home because medical schools sometimes record lectures or electronically post the content. 

Even though this strategy works for some people, you should at least attend courses when starting medical school.

Going to class during this essential adjustment time can help you become orientated, meet peers, and better grasp the expectations of your schoolwork.


College students frequently succeed even when they put in "all-nighters" the night before an exam and study for that one day. Not at a medical school. It is impossible to learn everything in only one or two days of looking due to the sheer volume of material. 

The most effective students begin looking at the content as soon as it is introduced and continue until exam day.

Forgetting to Take Care of Yourself

Students frequently neglect to care for themselves because of the medical school's ongoing obligations. 

This can include visiting the dentist or doctor, taking time off when sick or anxious, exercising less than you should, or eating poorly. The only way to complete the marathon that is medical school is to take care of yourself along the way.

Taking on Too Much

While it may be tempting to participate in every club, activity, and group available throughout medical school, over-committing is common. 

Select one or two activities that mean the most to you, focus on those, and get used to the medical school environment.

Additionally, even though you may have had a career in college, the added time commitment and stress of working while in medical school is not optimal. 

Instead, concentrate on your studies and the extracurricular activities you find most fulfilling.

Focusing on a Single Field of Medicine Only

It is acceptable to be interested in specific medical specialties. Still, students who devote too much time to one can miss opportunities to study and learn about other things. 

Please learn about the different medical specializations and the possibilities to experience them all.

Underestimating the Importance of Having a Strong Support System

A new core group of friends should be formed, previous friends should be kept in touch, and family support is crucial. 

Medical school burden should not be borne only by one person. To get you through the challenging path, you should have the assistance of others.

Comparing Yourself to Other Medical Students

Put all of your attention on you. This is by far the biggest anxiety-inducer in your first year. 

Consider preparing for a biochemistry test with a classmate. When you learn that your classmate is conducting his own study on the enzyme in question, you realize that none of the ramblings he is making about it or the 20 things he is listing about it are pertinent to what you need to know. If you are not careful, it could give the impression that you are lax when you are not.

Alternatively, do not let it bother you if people refer to you as a "gunner" or a "nerd" just because you want to spend the weekend studying. Tell everyone to mind their business and do what they feel is necessary. Be content with your work ethic.

Setting Limits in Medical School

A question on an exam could be based on anything said in a lecture or written on the syllabus, slides, or notes. 

Do not assume that attending every class and ignoring the lecturer's notes would provide you with all the knowledge. 

Medical students would be advised not to expect the notes and slides to contain all the pertinent information. 

In other words, there is a purpose for each of those materials. 

To properly learn and recall everything you need to know, you will probably need to use a combination of lectures, review materials, question banks, and mnemonic study aids. Spend time determining what is effective for you, then stick with it.

Stressing If You Miss Home

When you move, it is very typical to experience anxiety or homesickness. This is a common experience for new students, but the most essential thing to keep in mind is that it will pass. 

Find activities you enjoy, make new friends, or find ways to divert your attention.

If you are experiencing difficulties, talk to your family and friends about how you feel and ask for help from your medical school.

Forgetting to Have Fun and Enjoy

Although challenging, medical school is vital to any doctor's life. Medical students have the incredible luxury of learning anatomy on real cadavers, getting to know and treat patients, and learning about various medical specialties.

You should enjoy the procedure and soak it all in. It is acceptable to be enthralled by the course material, put in extra time in the lab, show a particular interest in a disease process or branch of medicine, and treasure the time spent with future lifetime friends.

Additional FAQs – What Does First Year in Medical School Look Like?

What Is A First-Year Medical Student Called?

First-year medical school students, or M1s, are enrolled in their first year. Before graduating and receiving their MD degree, medical school students are not permitted to use the title "doctor."

What Classes Are In The First Year Of Medical School?

Anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology are just a few courses that first-year medical students often take in four or five different subjects. 

Additionally, in your first year of medical school, you will finish preclinical work in a combination of lectures and labs.

How Do I Thrive in Medical School?

Finding the correct study tools early on and managing your time effectively is crucial to medical school success. This will ensure you are consistently ready for exams, coursework, and upcoming medical board exams.

It's important to have a plan and be flexible, while also taking care of yourself. If things don't go as planned, don't stress too much. Reach out to your friends or mentors for any help you might need, whether it's related to academics or your personal life.

Remember that you don't have to go through medical school by yourself. Having a strong support system can make all the difference.


You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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