Some Tips for Incoming MS1s

I am having a hard time understanding just how it can be that July 1st is today. This last summer is absolutely flying by, and in just a few weeks I will be helping out with orientation and getting the new MS1s settled in on campus. While I am excited for everything that is coming next year, I am totally enjoying not having to study all the time.

Now that I’ve had some time to relax and decompress from the past 10 months of non-stop med school craziness, I’ve compiled what I think is the best advice I could give any incoming MS1 on how to get the most out of the year and have everything go smoothly.

The first rule of Fight Club is… you don’t talk about Fight Club.”
The first rule of summer before MS1: DO NOT PRESTUDY. Go live your carefree life before you get lost in the black hole that is studying for med school. For the love of all that is holy, don’t ignore this advice from every single med student ever. Prestudying will get you nowhere because you won’t know what to study or how. Just don’t do it! I know you’re anxious. I know you think it’ll give you a head start to make the beginning easier. IT WON’T. Go have some fun and enjoy the best year of med school: the year you got in.

There’s not really much that you need. At our school, there’s a new requirement to have an iPad for the MS1s. Some schools will “give” their students a laptop or tablet so that everyone has the same; other schools (like mine) will just make a recommendation and expect students to have a computer of some sort. As far as medical equipment goes, most exam rooms will have most of the equipment you’ll need, so there is no reason to spend an ungodly amount of cash on an ophthalmaloscope or otoscope. You will need a stethoscope. Last year, I went ahead and bought my stethoscope because I’d done extensive research on which one I wanted. You’ll hear people say to wait until the school sells them during orientation week, but I found that at multiple schools (DO and MD) they’ll still run around $200 at the “discounted student rate”. I have a Littmann Cardio III that I absolutely love, and I went through during last July when they were having their annual “back to school” sale. It came with a free “student kit” that included name plate, CD of heart sounds, lifetime warranty, extra ear buds, and a free penlight and reflex hammer for $130. The ones that bought their stethoscopes through school didn’t get the free student kit–so I thought I’d share that sooner rather than later so you’d get the best deal. I did buy a blood pressure cuff from the school for $20 so I could practice my clinical skills at home, especially since at the time I was planning on being somewhere remote during the summer on a missions trip. You’ll need a pair or two of scrubs for the anatomy lab, and my group each brought in a box of gloves. The bookstore sells scalpel blades for $0.40/each, which I thought was ridiculous, so I bought a box of 100 from Amazon for $10 and they came with free shipping (I have plenty left over that I plan on giving my mentee). The books I bought online through Amazon and I saved a ton of $$$ doing it that way–I also bought them in July before the “mad rush” to buy books, so they were pretty cheap. I think I got BRS Anatomy for $5.

So…. just a heads’ up. I figured any MS1 at just about any med school could use those tips.

We don’t technically have a book list or a website that lists the books, because most people don’t use them. I’d imagine that most schools are like that, at least for the first year. Our profs’ notes are generally pretty good, so even though they may say that some books are “required” in the syllabi, it’s not necessary to have them to do well in the courses.

With that being said, there were several books that I used in this past year that I thought were really helpful.

-Everyone will say to get a Netter’s Atlas. It’s pretty much the gold standard, but one of the authors is actually our main professor so if there’s something in Netter’s that you don’t understand, she’s an incredible resource.
-They recommend a Grant’s Dissector–don’t buy it. There will be a group copy in the anatomy lab, but it’s not especially helpful for studying in class, and I didn’t find it very useful for lab either, because your instructor for the day will tell you how to go about the dissection, which is usually a bit different from Grant’s.
-I cannot recommend Rohen’s Color Atlas of Anatomy enough. It’s a compilation of pictures from expert dissections so you can see the same structures from many perspectives. I hated staying long hours in the lab, so this source was invaluable.
BRS Anatomy was a great resource for practice questions; highly recommended.

I bought the High-Yield Embryo book and it was the only resource I needed besides the class notes.

-You’ll need a Sidman’s and Sidman’s at our school (one of our profs is also an author) which is a self-study workbook. Hold off on buying it though, since your MS2 mentor may give you theirs (I’m giving mine to my MS1).
-I used the High-Yield Neuroanatomy and that’s all I needed besides the notes.

Dr. K suggests Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination, which I’ve heard that most schools suggest, but I don’t think anyone used it. I didn’t.

-I don’t think many people bought/used an outside book, but I did. The one suggested by our profs was Ross and Pawlina’s Histology, and I thought it was really helpful. I did extremely well on the exams because I’d used more than just the slides provided in class, so I thought it was worth it. I only bought it in the beginning because I found it for dirt cheap on Amazon.

Biostats (Incorporated into ICM):
High Yield Biostats was definitely worth it since our biostats is a self-study model.

BRS Biochem for practice questions was helpful.

-Personally, this was the hardest class for me, so I felt like I needed a little extra help. I bought the Medical Physiology book they recommended and used it for practice questions and clarifying things I had a bit of trouble understanding.
BRS Physiology was also great for practice questions.
-PreTest Physiology was also great, but I borrowed a copy from the Student Affairs office.

I also had a copy of First Aid (came with my AMA membership for free) that I used to review before exams.

That is all that I can think of. Books aren’t really necessary (except for Anatomy), but I do think the books I used to supplement my lecture notes definitely helped me to succeed this year.

That being said, if other schools add in other courses during M1, I suggest going through First Aid’s appendix and get the books they highly recommend for USMLE Step 1 review to supplement the classes.

A word on extracurriculars and leadership positions: In my class, there are 160 of us who are trying to make our residency application as impressive as possible. This means that on some level, we all need leadership and ECs, if only to put a check in that box. That being said, there can be a lot of competition for every leadership spot and even limits the number of slots for ECs, so my best advice would be to apply or volunteer for the things that you’re really interested in doing (since you never know unless you try), but don’t get too bummed if you don’t get everything that you want. Remember that classwork comes first. No one will be impressed if you have the most lines on your CV if you have to repeat the year from failing too many classes. Like everything else, prioritize.

Make time for fun to destress. At the end of the semester, since our Physiology class was cumulative, I was spending every waking moment studying and doing old exam questions. When my professor asked me what I did for fun, I’m embarrassed to say that I totally blanked. I couldn’t think of one darn thing I did for fun. In my tunnel vision of doing well on the cumulative final, I had neglected something that I really needed to balance out my life. Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that!

One of the things I worried about most before school started was the Gross Lab, and most importantly (at the time), how to not always smell like formaldehyde/formalin. The advice I was given: change every article of clothing so you don’t take the smell home with you (including socks and even hair ties), buy a few pairs of old scrubs to wear and throw away once they get too smelly, swimmer’s shampoo will help get the smell out of your hair; put a clean towel over your pillow at night so your bed doesn’t smell….
I tried to follow most of these, but as the year went on some things fell by the wayside. I did keep extra socks to change into–sometimes things drip into your shoes and you’ll want to change your socks. I kept a small bottle of perfume in my locker that I would spritz on before and after lab so the smell wasn’t so bad. I did keep extra hair ties in my locker. When my scrubs got too nasty, I threw them away and brought in new ones. My husband said he could never smell it on me, so I didn’t worry about it too much. The worst thing was, there was one time where on the drive home I could taste it… I couldn’t get to a drive-through for a drink quickly enough! There really is no way to fully prepare for the first dissection; dissection isn’t really something you know how to handle until you’ve done it, but you’ll get through it!

Other advice:
-Try to get into some sort of schedule or routine. Remember to eat, exercise, and get some sleep.
-Figure out what works best for you. Your study habits will not be your friends’ study habits. Don’t worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Take care of yourself, and you’ll do just fine.
-Don’t get bogged down too much in the first week. For our first week, after about two hours of lecture, my brain felt like it was going to implode, and I got a bit overwhelmed. We even had a Histology review on the Saturday of the first week, and I felt like we were thrown into something that would completely and utterly consume my life. I adjusted. It did get better, and was even enjoyable.
-When classes first started, I tried a bit of everything. I read the notes before class, attended lecture, rewatched the Tegrities, reviewed the notes, made flashcards, studied in groups… everything I could think of. I kept what worked and trashed what didn’t. Sometimes my study habits needed adjustment between classes or even between blocks of the same class. Find what works and if it doesn’t anymore, adjust.

That should be a good start. As always, if there are any questions, just let me know! I’m happy to help. Congrats to all the incoming MS1s!


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