White Coat Woes to White Coat Wows: Basic Sciences

By now, first year medical students should be a week or so into their curriculum and are starting to get their toes wet. My school, like most, dedicates the first half of M1 year toward laying a foundation in biomedical sciences through a course called Fundamentals. It was broken down into four mini-blocks, each with its own theme and exam.

  1. Biochemistry,  Molecular Biology, and Genetics
  2. Cell Biology and Metabolism
  3. Pharmacology and the Autonomic Nervous System
  4. Immunology and Microbiology

Instead of telling you which pathways to study, I’m going to provide you with what I think is important to take out of what feels like taking all of your upper level bio electives in one semester.

  1. Invest in a whiteboard – Most of the biomedical sciences portion of med school is a rehash of your *favorite* undergraduate nightmares with added depth. One thing that worked for me was investing in a whiteboard with ultra fine tip markers (you’ll thank me when you get them, they save so much space). Unfortunately, much of this module is continuous repetition of biochemical pathways. There’s no getting around it, so get cracking!
  2. Focus on implications – An important caveat to my above point is that there is a reason that you’re learning all of this, and it’s not to drive yourself crazy memorizing these pathways. Defects in gene expression can have a whole host of downstream effects. The point of drawing out pathways is to visualize how enzyme or protein deficiencies lead to disease, such as phenylketonuria (PKU). Additionally, it’s important to know enzymes that can become drug targets in the treatment of disease, such as xanthine oxidase in the treatment of gout.
  3. Everyone is smart – This might be the first time you have felt challenged, and I mean really challenged. Realize that you are surrounded by people who were at the top of their class at top schools. Some of your classmates may have done research on some esoteric gene mutation or have a ton of clinical experience from scribing or from being an EMT. Despite all of this, don’t forget that you too were accepted for a reason; focus on learning the material and becoming a physician instead of how well someone else may seem to be doing compared to you.
  4. Ask for help – Don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance, whether it’s through tutoring or forming study groups with your classmates. I start tutoring my first set of students tomorrow, and I’m getting tutored as well for cardio. I like to take the initiative and preemptively meet with my tutor at the beginning of each block to see how to best tackle the material. Blogs like mine may help you discover study strategies, but they are not as personalized as the students who have come before you. They know what material professors like to test and which textbooks will be the most helpful. They don’t bite, and they’re (usually) free through your school. Take advantage of it!

Now it’s back to cardio for me. Do you have any study strategies that helped you through the first semester of med school? What worked? What didn’t work? Feel free to let me know in the comments or on Instagram!


– TS℞

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