A Layman’s Guide to First and Second Year

This guide is dedicated to a Rite Aid cashier who asked me if I wanted to be a “nurse, a doctor or some type of pharmacist” after seeing my medical school T-shirt.

 Medical education can be a confusing subject to a layperson. In fact, if you venture out beyond my immediate niche, I quickly become confused myself. When an acquaintance in a separate medical field tells me they’re two years into their education, I invariably find myself asking “So you’re close to being done…right?” In a field with so many career paths to take and a gamut of educational levels, keeping the intricacies of each separate in your mind can be quite a challenge.

I will attempt to guide you through some of the subtler points of medical school in this first of perhaps many guides.

The Difference between First and Second Year with Translation Subject Matter

The first two years of medical school are predominately spent in the classroom and the lab, learning the basic science of medicine that will provide a foundation for future education and practice.

 First Year Each student learns the structure, composition, and function of the healthy human body in great detail.

 Second Year  Studies continue as students delve into the great many diseases and abnormal happenings of human kind.

 Translation  Let’s pretend that first- and second-year students come home on Christmas break to find that their Nana has a bleeding rash on her leg. The first-year student will stare blankly at the rash suddenly realizing that memorizing every nerve branch in the leg has little real world value. The second year will confidently state that Nana has Ebola and is lying about taking a recent trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Neither student should be asked for their medical advice.

Study Habits

 The daily life of a medical student can be taxing as they attempt to balance a large workload, personal lives and a growing number of responsibilities.

 First Year  Students will fight mentally and physically to adjust to a sudden volume of material and a competitive atmosphere unlike anything they encountered in college.

 Second Year  Tired second years will continue their education with new-found study skills as they begin to prepare for licensing exams and life in the hospital.

 Translation  A first-year student will study late into the night later bragging, “Dude, I studied for like a million hours yesterday.” They will then realize they retained none of it and most of their test points will come from material they furiously flipped through 20 minutes before the test. A second year will memorize the fact that they saw two words in the same sentence. If they see one word on the test, they will assume the answer is the other word. This strategy leaves more time for wine and sitcoms. This strategy will prove surprisingly successful.

 OSCE Preparation

 Objective structured clinical exams (OSCEs) provide medical students with the opportunity to prove their skills in physical diagnosis and the art of doctoring on standardized actor patients.

 First Year  Students will learn the basics of taking a history and physical while getting comfortable talking to patients.

Second Year  Students will refine their skills with improved speed and understanding as their instructors grade them with greater stringency.

Translation  First-year students will spend hours practicing on their loved ones and fellow students, trying to perfect what they saw in their textbook. Recorded footage will later provide hours of hilarious and cringe-worthy entertainment at the faculty Christmas party. Second-year students will roll out of bed five minutes early for OSCEs to find their white coat at the bottom of their laundry. Success will largely be determined by the number of cups of coffee they can drink before entering the patient’s room.

 Licensing Exam Preparation

 The first step of the medical licensing exam or USMLE Step 1 is a crucial exam taken at the end of second year. Performance on the test will determine whether or not a student can continue with their education.

 First Year  Students will build study skills to help  begin to prepare for USMLE Step 1.

 Second Year  Students begin integrating preparation for USMLE Step 1 into their normal schedule. An intense study schedule will begin once normal classes end for the year.

 Translation  First year students will spend the majority of the year figuring out what USMLE stands for. Second year students will panic realizing they should have spent more time listening last year and less time trying to figure out what USMLE stands for.


Matt Eisenstat