The following is a brief list of some of the things I think have been useful and worth their money in my first two years of med school:
1. Large, widescreen computer monitor. The volume of information required to internalize during the preclinical years of medical school can’t be compiled and organized on paper. You would end up with bookshelves filled with those gigantic 4″ binders. Therefore, almost everything happens on a laptop. Of course, the advantages of portability afforded by laptops are offset by the tiny screen size. Plugging into an external, gigantic screen when at home is a huge advantage. You can actually see what you need to be looking at. It’s brighter and generally has better resolution. More important, the additional real estate allows you to have multiple windows open side-by-side so you can take notes in one and look at material or watch videos in the other.
2. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease. One of our professors once said, “You could lock a med student in a basement for two years with a copy of Robbins and they would come out and not miss a question on Step 1.” A single textbook doesn’t exist for medical school, but this one pretty much covers everything you need to know in the first two years. Unfortunately, Robbins often goes into too much detail, but it is the best reference book for anything during the preclinical years. This is a required book for any med student.
3. Smartphone. If for nothing else, to keep track of your email and schedule. I don’t know exactly how much email I get in a given day, but it’s a lot. Being able to check these emails anytime without sitting down at a computer is a huge advantage. The other thing smartphones are getting better and better at is on-the-go studying. I can pull up a set of anatomy flashcards while I’m waiting for a meeting to start and quickly hit high-yield information. You can also use it for quick reference while in the clinics — either to teach yourself about a condition/medication relating to a patient or help out your preceptor/attending (be careful with this one, though, they might not appreciate your help).
4. A decent stethoscope. The key word here is “decent.” Get one better than the base model, but don’t go out and drop $500 on an electronic cardiology stethoscope — (1) you’ll look like an idiot, (2) it’s not worth it at this point and (3) you’ll probably lose it at some point. A good quality stethoscope will help tremendously, both in terms of hearing what you’re supposed to be hearing and comfort.
5. A good bed. You may not get a lot of sleep, so what you do get you want to be very good.
6. Question and review books. Hundreds of question and review books exist. Some advise med students against getting any of these until they are actually preparing for Step 1. The fear is two-fold:
- Students will use review books as a primary source for studying and miss out on some of the nuance provided by studying actual textbooks or materials from professors.
- Students will become too focused on prep Step 1 and look past the fact that they need to focus on their current courses and pass them.
Both risks are very real for students. However, review books and question books can effectively be incorporated into normal test prep during coursework in Year 1 and 2. The benefit of using these tools in your preparation for regular course tests is that you become familiar with these materials before you begin your arduous Step 1 preparation. Also, many of the review books contain very helpful mnemonics and tools for memorizing complicated pathways or concepts. Instead of wasting time coming up with your own, often inferior, memorization tools you can use some of the most effective ones from previous students. But don’t fall into the aforementioned traps — study primary materials first and only use these as your last bit of review/self-testing before an exam.
7. A good anatomy atlas. I think it’s important to have a true anatomy atlas, meaning one that is simply labeled pictures/diagrams. Several anatomy texts exist that are a combination textbook and atlas. I generally don’t like these because I find the text only functions to make the book thicker and makes finding the diagram you want difficult.
8 . Not over-paying for med school. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed physicians who went to med school at US News & World Report Top 10 research or primary care medical schools did not perform any better on quality measures than their peers who went to less prestigious institutions. Med school debt is bad enough, don’t exacerbate the problem.
Josh Herigon is a medical student who blogs a Number Needed to Treat.
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