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What to Expect During the First Year of Medical School

Starting medical school can be an exciting but daunting experience. You probably have dreamed about this day for many years, and it's finally coming to fruition. CONGRATULATIONS! You did it!! As you embark on this journey, knowing what to expect during your first year of medical school is essential.

girl holding stethoscope

Disclaimer: This article is authored by an Osteopathic medical student and may not reflect the experiences of Allopathic medical students. Any information presented here is not absolute, as variations in medical experiences vary among students in the first year.

First Year of Medical School Curriculum

The first year of medical school is typically focused on the basic physical sciences. Some medical schools use system-based curriculums, while other schools may opt for the traditional/classic curriculum. The main difference between the two is that the traditional curriculum separates learning objectives into anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, histology, and pathology courses. In contrast, a systems-based curriculum separates these by body systems, ex. Gastrointestinal, Cardiovascular, Endocrine, etc. Regardless of the curriculum structure, these courses will provide a foundation for your clinical training later.

Course Load

The course load in medical school is notoriously heavy. You can expect to spend much time studying and preparing for exams. Depending on the type of curriculum, you might have exams for each course in the classic curriculum every week or 1.5 weeks. Systems-based curricula usually opt for modules, which could mean fewer exams but more comprehensive exams for each system. Regardless, developing good study habits early on is vital to help manage the workload. Check out our article on study techniques for guidance on studying in medical school.

Hands-On Experience

While the first year of medical school is focused on the basic sciences, you will still have opportunities for hands-on experience. Most schools have an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) or a version of this where students are placed in clinical settings with patient actors. This will be the first time you learn the necessary skills for becoming a physician, including taking history, performing a physical exam, and many others.

For Osteopathic schools, there is additional hands-on experience in Osteopathic Manipulative Techniques (OMT), where you learn the philosophy of Osteopathy and practice the skills to become effective osteopaths.

Lastly, You may also have the chance to work with cadavers in the anatomy lab, dissecting cadavers and reviewing the human anatomy in donor bodies.


Networking is an essential part of medical school. Building a solid support group with your classmates early on can help you navigate the challenges of medical school and beyond. By connecting with your peers, you can share resources, study tips, and advice.

Side note: Try not to fall into competitive behaviors, as this will quickly make you and everyone around you miserable and untrusting. You will need these people along your journey.

Additionally, networking can help you build relationships with potential mentors and future colleagues. Feel free to attend student organization events, join study groups, or reach out to upper-level students for guidance. Remember, the connections you make in medical school can benefit you throughout your career as a physician.

Stress and Burnout

Medical school can be stressful and overwhelming. The key to avoiding stress and burnout is to schedule in time to take care of yourself and do the things you love. It is essential to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. Remember, as future physicians, you take care of your patients, but only you can take care of yourself. Seek out support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if needed. Please don't wait until it's too late.

New Experiences and Mindset

The first year of medical school is what you make it. The mindset you enter with will determine the course of your journey moving forward. If you enter with anxiety, lack of discipline, or close-mindedness, that will carry you through the rest of your journey. Most people enter with a balance of excitement, focus, curiosity, and open-mindedness. While studying is a massive part of the medical school journey, medical school is also the time to dive into new experiences and lean into discomfort. You've already worked so hard to get into medical school; there is no reason to stop the next 4 years of your life while you wait to get into residency. The journey is all about balance, and if you can't find it now, imagine trying to find it in residency for the first time.


The first year of medical school is an important and exciting time. While challenging, it is also an opportunity to learn and grow as a future physician. The mindset you enter with will determine the course of your journey moving forward. With dedication, curiosity, hard work, self-care, and open-mindedness, you can successfully navigate the first year of medical school and beyond.


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