My Medical School Essentials | 11 Things You Will Actually Need in Your First Year9 min read

Published by Zach on

There were 11 things that I actually used on a regular basis in my first year of medical school that I would say are essential. I always have every one of these items in my backpack at all times (other than business clothes). Here are a list and links to all of those items. If you want to know which ones I chose, and why, keep scrolling.

1. Stethoscope 🩺

So a stethoscope, big shocker! There is no way getting around this… you definitely need one. I mean how are you going to show everyone else you are in medical school????

But, seriously, you need one. The stethoscope I use is the Littmann Master Cardiology. Most other health care professionals that I see in the hospital or during clinical training say it’s one of the best. Now I am no expert clinician, or even really a beginner clinician, but I remember using one of my friend’s stethoscopes and I could barely hear what I could on this one. If you can keep track of your stuff (that is not losing this) then it’s worth the extra 100$ difference from the Litmann Classic III.

One small tricky thing about the Master Cardiology stethoscope is that it only has one side and that side is a Diaphragm and Bell. If you use firm pressure it is a Diaphragm (best for hearing high-frequency sounds – like lung sounds), and if you use light pressure it is a Bell (best for low-frequency sounds – like heart sounds). There is also no pediatric side, which the Classic III does have, but in my experience, it works just fine with pediatric patients.

2. Pen Light 🔦

The penlight will mainly help you check someone’s pupils and look into their throat.

Before medical school, I just went on Amazon and bought the highest-reviewed penlight I saw. This penlight (DON’T BUY IT) was absolute trash. I went to look into someone’s throat – DARKNESS. I know it’s really meant for the pupil exam but why can’t there be a light for both? There is. (Oh it also felt like flimsy plastic…)

The one I have now is a gamechanger, I can look into the throat no problem AND I can twist it to adjust the light to do a pupil exam.

3. Reflex Hammer 🔨

A reflex hammer will let you test a couple of reflexes across the body which, in turn, allows you to check a couple of neuronal functions.

When I was going into my MS1 year (first year of medical school) I thought you definitely needed that triangular looking thingymajig to thwack people in the knee with. In my first clinical experience course, I remember winding up to hit that Patellar reflex (an area on the knee, which when you hit, should cause the Quad to contract) getting a direct hit!!!! ANDDDD

Nothing 😭

No cool leg jerk. An awkward look down from the standardized patient. My classmates were wondering who let me into med school…

The standard hammer does work it just isn’t as easy to use as this one. Turns out the triangular hammer is not the standard anymore. I forgot that our school recommended the MDF Babinski Hammer. The next clinical training I took it out and…

WHAM (I’m not hitting it that hard really)

!!Cool leg jerk!! =]

4. Safety Goggles 🥽

You need safety goggles for the anatomy lab, assuming at your school you do dissections.

It needs to be shatterproof and have a side-guard. But really that’s it. Don’t spend too much money on these as I have already lost 3 pairs…

These ones are fine.

Tip: ALWAYS keep two pairs in your backpack. Trust me you will be saving a comrade in arms with that extra pair before the end of your first month of anatomy.

5. Scrubs 👕

Whether you are shadowing some doctors in your first year or are in the anatomy lab (most likely), you will need scrubs.

I first bought these ones but they were itchy and really restricted my range of motion. I jumped on the trend and bought a Figs shirt and pants *GASP* and they were much, much better. Now they definitely are expensive for something you will, literally, be getting blood and guts on, but when you are standing in them for hours and hours at a time I think it’s worth it.

Now this is my personal preference, I know many many people who just get the ones from the hospital for free, and they work fine, but, for me, the cost/reward ratio was worth it.

6. Books 📕

Don’t tell my professors this but really I don’t use books anymore. OK maybe 2…

Most of the textbooks I can access for free, online, and (here’s the kicker) legally through my medical school. I’m sure yours will have this access too.

The only ones I actually look at are an old first aid book and Costanzo BRS Physiology.

The BRS Physiology book is great for starting new topics (Like heart, lungs, etc.) as it teaches great (surprise) physiology. Every healthcare student forum I scoured before my first year recommended this book and now I see why. It really boils down to the essentials you need to know for physiology and has a bonus of good practice questions at the end of each chapter.

First aid is a condensed list of most of the information you will need to know for Step 1 (which is like the MCAT of medical school, yeah it never ends…). Honestly, recently, I am phasing it out. There is a great app called ANKI which is a flashcard app that incorporates a space-repetition algorithm which was a game-changer for me. I intend to make a video/post about the benefits of ANKI and how I use it to be on the lookout for that.

Now two other question-bank books I use but they are written by professors at my school who write the exams, so *wink wink* I really just go over the practice questions before the exam in hopes of learning some exam-relevant content. If you have professors that have written medical books I recommend buying them or getting access to them, as content from them will more than likely show up on your exams.

So should you buy any books? Yea, buy BRS physiology, and maybe an old first aid, but that’s it. That’s all I used in my first year of medical school.

7. Business Clothes 🧳

When you are wearing your white coat (yes it is awesome) you have to wear at least business casual level clothes. You need to look professional.

Not only with your instructors turn you away if you don’t but also don’t you want to look professional as a doctor (medical student)? Would you want a doctor wearing beaten up sneakers, and an old, untucked, t-shirt with ketchup on it? I don’t think I would, how do they practice medicine if they can’t even meet basic professionalism standards?

For guys, a nice, clean, buttoned-up shirt that tucks into nice chinos or slacks. NO JEANS. Secondly, a tie is optional, I only wear one when I am seeing real patients (as opposed to clinical training or standardized patients).

For girls (who usually don’t have this problem at my school): no jeans, slacks are ok with a more formal top. No crop tops/t-shirts/tank tops; a nice dress or skirt should do it.

8. Lock 🔒

A lock?? For what??? I’m not going to be using the gym?!!! BRAIN IS #1 PRIORITY NOT BICEPS. I’m hiTting 13K REVIEWS, TODAY, supersetted with some 9 UWORLD BLOCKS AT 97%. I’ll SEE YOU IN FAMILY MEDICINE IN UTAH WHILE I’M CHIEF RESIDENT in NEUROSURGERY AT MY #1 CHOICE.

Ok, I’m definitely being dramatic here (and don’t worry about some of the lingoes if you don’t know it), and of course nothing against family medicine (or Utah) or any specialty, but some of the posts across these forums… I gotta get off SDN… anyway, sidetracked, back to what you need for medical school.

A lock! Yes, you need a lock. For anatomy lab, and if you want to store stuff on campus you want something to lock up your ~$2k worth of stuff in your backpack.

Any old lock will do, this is the one I use.

9. Portable Charger 🔌

A portable charger is one of the most sneakily awesome things I have always had in my backpack. This Anker battery pack is great. For instance, the portable charger is probably my most used thing in medical school other than my computer. Also, this one has two USB sockets and a micro-USB charging slot (to charge it) so keep that in mind for your devices.

The amount of times I can’t find a wall socket, or a professor decides to lecture us about their new extremely high yield research and your phone or iPad starts to die, BAM, just plug this guy in.

Also sometimes you will be in the library or studying on campus or at a friend’s house and you just don’t have access to a charger. Seriously this ling is a lifesaver. I use it when I travel too. I’m really geeking out here on a portable charger, but really it has made that much of a difference.

10. Headphones 🎧

For the library or a roommate who has decided to learn guitar, I use noise-canceling headphones.

I use the BOSE QC 35 II Wireless headphones. I wear them at school when I edit videos, and on planes. They work great.

11. Computer/Ipad 💻

Finally a computer and Ipad. This is a huge topic, but you need some sort of device. I know people that only use an iPad, but I think you need a computer I really like the iPad for writing on slide presentations in lectures. But the computer is my main driver for other notes, flashcards, practice questions, etc. I will be making a post/video in the future about all these things but honestly, I think any Macbook and/or IPad (with Pencil!) would work fine.

So that’s it. Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear about what you guys use in medical school.

If you’ve been accepted and starting your MS1 year soon, congratulations! You are in for a really amazing time.

Thanks for reading



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