First Year of Medical School And What You Should Expect

The first year of medical school is mainly classroom-based and you'll have limited patient contact because the goal is to learn the basic science first.

Although, nowadays the medical schools are trying to include more patient exposure during your first year of medical school. The reason is that you will retain the science better if you can apply it to a real world scenario such as a patient. Therefore, you can expect to have time in the clinic and physician shadowing opportunities in your first year medical school curriculum.

But at the end of the day the goal of the medical school curriculum is to advance medical students who are knowledgeable with normal body function and anatomy.

Since you'll be introduced to patients early in your medical school career you'll also gain inexperience in taking a patient history and the basic steps to a patient examination.

Your first year medical school courses will include:

  • Biochemistry - chemistry of cells, tissues and organs of the body.
  • Anatomy - structure of the body and the relations of its parts. This course will use a cadaver for dissection purposes.
  • Histology - cells and tissues on the microscopic level.
  • Embryology - human development from conception onward.
  • Physiology - function of the human body and its parts (including chemical and physical steps involved).
  • Neuroanatomy - anatomy of the nervous system.

Medical School Exams

Get used to multiple choice exams. This is the reality of a medical education where practically every test you will take going forward will be multiple-choice for the most part.

Although, I do know of a few select medical schools that use essay exams but this is on a limited basis. Generally, a test in an essay format is used to test your knowledge of biochemistry pathways and how much you've memorized. You can also use an essay test with molecular biology.

Again, remember that multiple-choice is the standard testing methodology used in medical school.

I have friends at a lot of different medical schools and one piece of advice I have for prospective students is to understand the medical school exam schedule. For instance, one friend had six exams in one week. Personally, I think that's a lot to study for but medical school is not for the faint of heart.

While some first year medical students have told me they may have two exams in one day and then one exam the following day. It all depends on the particular medical school and the specific class.

Grading During First Year

Regardless, of what you've been told grades do matter including the first year of medical school. The grades you get during your first year of medical school determine your class rank which becomes very important for securing a residency position after your medical school graduation.

If you attend a medical school that uses an A, B, C, F grading system be prepared for a very competitive academic environment where students are out to be gunners and set the curve on all of your exams.

The trend of having letter grades is falling to the wayside as medical schools want to promote more collaborative learning environments. Meaning you'll most likely see Honors,Pass, Fail or some variation of this scale. Using a first year medical school system like this promotes a sense of comrodarie amongst the students and I think any medical student will benefit from this type of environment.

Did you know some medical schools using a baseball analogy give you soft pitches to get you acclimated to the rigors of medical school. Basically, the first set of exams are made easy on purpose so you can have confidence in yourself, but as the school year goes on the exams become harder. Or at least as hard as what the professor would expect you to know.

Which leads to another point.

The volume of information you're expected to know during your first year of medical school is equivalent to opening a fire hydrant and being asked to drink all the water. Nearly impossible but it can be done and you'll adjust your study style accordingly. But here's key advice from one first year medical school professor, "Everything that I am teaching you is important, otherwise I would not be saying it."

This makes life easy and you know to study everything and you'll do great on your exams.

On the other-hand, you can get some professors who love their topic so much they teach everything including all the subtle points as though everyone in the class wants to go into the specialty. What is disappointing is that you have then learn a huge amount information and realize that you'll be tested on the finer details that would never be tested otherwise on your future medical school boards.