First-Year Medical Student M1 Guide

First-Year Medical School Student (M1) Guide

Starting your first year of medical school can be daunting, but we’re here to help. This First-Year Medical School Student (M1) Guide will tell you how to prepare for your first year of medical school and give an overview of what you should expect as an M1. Each year of medical school is different, and the first year is known to be challenging. Make a smooth transition from undergrad to med student using our best M1 tips.

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First Year of Medical School FAQs

What is a first-year medical student called?

A student in their first year of medical school is called a first-year medical school student or M1. Medical school students cannot call themselves doctors until they graduate and earn their MD degree.

What does M1 mean in medical school?

The first year of medical school is often abbreviated as M1 or MS1. A first-year medical school student is also referred to as an M1.

How old are first-year medical school students?

First-year medical school students vary in age, but on average, a student entering M1 is 24 years old. 

How many hours per week do first-year medical students study?

The average first-year medical student spends about 30-40 hours per week studying; however, this amount of time will vary depending on your coursework and exam schedule. 

How many classes do you take during your first year of medical school?

First-year medical school students typically take four or five classes in different disciplines such as anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology. Your first year of medical school is a mix of lectures and labs, during which you’ll complete preclinical work. 

Is the first year of medical school the hardest?

The first year of medical school is generally considered the most difficult because of the dramatic transition from undergraduate coursework to medical school coursework. There is a much higher volume of material covered throughout medical school. First-year medical school students also have to adapt to a new and demanding schedule. Unlike a college or university, where students choose classes and have more control over their time, medical schools have set schedules designated by the school, leaving students with less time for extracurriculars.

What to Do Before Your First Year of Medical School

You’ve passed the MCAT and been admitted to medical school – two huge milestones in your medical school career – but now what? Set yourself up for success by preparing for your first year of medical school before classes begin. It’s important to enter M1 feeling confident, and the best way to do that is by getting organized. Below, we list some things you should do while you’re still an undergrad and what you should accomplish the summer before your first year as a medical student.

Preparing for Your First Year of Medical School in Undergrad

You’ll want to start preparing for your first year of medical school earlier than you may think. While you’re still an undergrad, there are a few key things you should do before your first day of medical school.

  • Complete pre-matriculation paperwork

    After your medical school acceptance, there will be more paperwork for you to complete prior to the start of the school year. Every school has different requirements, but you’ll likely have to submit transcripts, vaccination records, tax records, and more. Stay on top of the paperwork so you don’t miss deadlines and have to spend your first day in the admin office.

  • Apply for student loans (if needed)

    Many students take advantage of loans and other financial aid during their medical school careers. Student loan applications have strict deadlines, so if you’re applying for financial aid, get your forms submitted to ensure your finances are in order when school begins.

  • Research housing options

    No matter where you go to medical school, you’ll want to start making housing inquiries as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the fewer options there will be. Your medical school should give you some guidance on housing options, but do some research on your own to find the best deal.

  • Connect with future classmates

    Start building relationships with future classmates as soon as possible. Utilize forums, social media, and other options given to you by your school to establish a community. This will make your first day feel less intimidating and could lead to finding potential roommates, study partners, and even lifelong friends.

The Summer Before Your First Year of Medical School

Spend the summer before your first year of medical school completing some final preparations for M1. In addition, use this time to practice self-care so you enter medical school in the right frame of mind. Here are some things you can do in the months leading up to your first day of medical school.

  • Purchase medical school supplies

    Your school supply list will vary depending on your class schedule, but ensuring you are well-equipped for your first day is important. Consult your medical school’s M1 supply list to check that you have everything you need for a successful first year.

  • Join professional organizations

    Joining professional organizations that cater to medical students is highly encouraged. Not only will this expand your network, but it may also lead to professional opportunities. Participating in a professional organization is also a great way to enhance your resume.

  • Create a study schedule

    You’ll need to evolve your study habits as you transition from undergrad to first-year med student. Create a study schedule and stick to it. Once you have your class schedule, map out when you have time to study, when you’ll be in classes and labs, and when you have time for other activities. This will help you stay organized with a busy M1 schedule.

  • Practice self-care

    Don’t forget to set aside some time to relax and have fun during the summer before you start medical school. Do something you enjoy that will get your mind off of school, applications, and tests. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are now, and you don’t want to go into your first year of medical school feeling burnt out. Take a break – you’ve earned it!

What To Expect As A First-Year Medical School Student

The first year of medical school is known to be challenging, but if you stay organized, take care of yourself, and remember your reason for wanting to be there, you’ll thrive in medical school. Below, we detail some things you should expect as an M1.

M1 Curriculum, Modules & Coursework

The curriculum, modules, and coursework you’ll encounter as a first-year medical student will vary depending on which medical school you attend. Some schools take an interdisciplinary approach to M1 coursework, while others focus on a single subject for three or four weeks before you move on. 

Here is a sample of what a first-year curriculum for medical school might look like:

  • Basic sciences (Anatomy, physiology, etc.)
  • Clinical Foundations (Learning how to take a history, conduct a physical exam, etc.)
  • Elective (Spanish for medical professionals, biomedical research, or other)

During M1, you will spend a lot of time in lectures and doing lab work. Review your medical school’s website to get a sense of what your schedule will look like. For example, the distribution of your time spent in lectures versus in an anatomy lab. If you have the opportunity to connect with upperclassmen, they may be able to give you insight into classes and professors so you know what to expect. 

Time and Study Requirements for First-Year Medical School Students

Medical students spend a lot more time studying outside of class than most students ever did as an undergrad. The amount of knowledge to learn is huge. If you don’t have the stamina or study skills needed, ask for help early; your medical school may have resources to use. Consider forming a study group with classmates you get along with. Alternatively, don’t feel pressured to study the way everyone else does. If you know that you work best alone, keep doing that.

M1 Clinical Work

Clinical work is typically done during the last two years of medical school. As an M1, you will complete clinical skill lessons in addition to other coursework. You’ll learn the basics of doctoring, such as how to take a medical history, conduct a physical exam, and more. During this pre-clinical phase, students will learn interpersonal communication skills and how to behave professionally in a hospital setting. Some first-year medical school students may start to do some clinical work early if they have the opportunity to work in emergency rooms or outpatient clinics.

Top Tips For First-Year Medical School Students

Stay on track and avoid common mistakes by following these tips for first-year medical school students. We’ll show you how to have a successful first year by taking advantage of opportunities, making connections, managing your time (and your mental health), and preparing for the future.

M1 Tip #1: Pursue Your Medical Interests, But Stay Open-Minded

Consider shadowing physicians who work in specialties you might be interested in to understand the day-to-day work of that specialty. Most first years don’t do much dedicated clinical work, so make the most of the time you get by asking preceptors how you can be helpful, volunteering to see more patients, etc. Being proactive can yield opportunities down the road – maybe your preceptor will write a recommendation letter for your residency application.

M1 Tip #2: Network with Professors and Students

Introduce yourself to instructors who are working in fields you may be interested in. Take advantage of office hours to get to know instructors better. Connecting with upperclassmen can be a great way to find mentors with invaluable insights on professors, classes, and more. Establishing relationships with your M1 classmates can lead to the creation of study groups, lab partnerships, and more.

M1 Tip #3: Identify Your Study Style 

We’ve already discussed the importance of sticking to a study schedule, but identifying your study style will be critical for sustainable productivity. Determine if you study more effectively alone versus in a group, whether you’re an auditory learner or a visual learner, if you retain information better using tools like flashcards or watching videos, etc. Learn to study smarter in M1 so you can optimize your efficiency throughout your medical school career. 

M1 Tip #4: Focus on Your Mental Health

Medical school is challenging for everyone, but it is temporary. Do your best, ask for help when you need it, take breaks, and talk to people who aren’t in medical school. When you’re feeling stressed, remember why you’re there and what you want to achieve. You got this!

M1 Tip #5 Familiarize Yourself With USMLE Step 1

Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is usually taken at the end of your second year of medical school. During your first year of medical school, it’s a good idea to start familiarizing yourself with the exam so you know what to expect. Research USMLE study resources to understand what your options are. The USMLE Step 1 is considered one of the most challenging board exams for medical professionals, and your score is a huge factor in gaining entrance into a residency program. 

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Find out more about USMLE Step 1 prep options.