You may have heard people say that the study of anatomy through the dissection of the human body is an incredible privilege afforded to very few people, one for which you should be extremely grateful. Having said that, if you currently feel nervous or overwhelmed, know that such feelings are perfectly normal. Most of your classmates feel the same way, and, with the guidance of the wonderful Anatomy faculty, you will help each other through it. You probably cannot imagine how important your Anatomy table partners will become to you, but know that together you will build a supportive, compassionate and respectful learning environment unlike any you have worked in before. Don’t be surprised if your table partners become your best friends, if Anatomy becomes your favorite course, or if you find yourself looking for ways to honor the memory of the donor who made it all possible.
— Bianca V., M1
Histology is one of the most organized classes in the first year. We have a lab manual written specifically for the course, an expansive digital slide bank and a trove of old exams that mimic the content of the new ones. Although lectures can be dry and somniferous, the lab section of the class, in a way, gives a face to the different cells and tissues that you’ll be talking about throughout the rest of medical school. It’s kind of like that Magic School Bus episode where they shrink down to the size of a cell and enter Ralphie … but I digress. Although it may not be as sexy or exotic as Anatomy, Histology is dependable, experienced and can still show you a good time.
— Vincent P., M1
Molecular Foundations of Medicine (MFM)
MFM is almost like an undergrad biochemistry/cell biology course but with a stronger emphasis on the clinically relevant information. In each lecture, you’ll first learn about the normal biochemical pathways/cellular machinery of your cells. Then, you’ll delve into what problems can arise when something goes wrong (e.g. if you’re missing an enzyme, overproducing some compound, etc.). Unfortunately, MFM starts at 8:30 a.m. and there are only audio recordings (not video recordings) of the lectures. On the bright side, Linda Pike (our esteemed course master) has written a fantastic coursebook that contains almost everything you need to know to succeed — meaning that you can easily pass the class without attending a single lecture. There’s a lot of material to master, but the exams also are fairly predictable. All in all, even if you weren’t a fan of biochem/cell bio in undergrad, you’ll probably find MFM (somewhat) enjoyable.
— Michael V., M1
Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB)
If you are an MSTP student, you can choose to take Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) or Molecular Foundations of Medicine. MCB counts toward your PhD class requirements, as it is offered through the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (DBBS) graduate program, and focuses on introducing numerous cell biology research topics including protein synthesis and sorting, cell signaling, X-ray crystallography and endocytosis. Although some lectures are short 40-minute presentations and others cover more than 150 slides with more information than you could ever possibly memorize, you will be well prepared for the exams with the TA reviews, which outline exactly what will be asked. The class also has small-group journal clubs that meet once a week and require a paper critique and discussion participation. There are a lot of topics covered in a short amount of time, but I enjoyed the class format overall since you can read in detail about the topics that interest you while still getting a basic understanding of the other important research topics through the lectures and journal discussions.
— Hannah B., M1
What do dead cows, rioting medical students and clams have to do with physiology? You can find out these answers (as well as many more boring but more high-yield ones) in first-year Physiology. In addition to offering some of the most humorous asides and interesting content, Physiology also features very little memorization, which makes it a welcome antidote to the rest of first year. Physiology begins lightly with two hours of lecture a week, but gradually picks up as the year goes on. Dr. Bob Mercer directs the course, with some lectures given by a variety of research and clinical faculty. That means that you’ll be exposed to some fascinating clinical applications of physiology, but you will also encounter a few duds. Physiology has undergone a few changes in the past few years and is still experiencing some growing pains, but Dr. Mercer is receptive to student feedback. He and superstar TA Roger Klein have been working to improve the student experience. You will still have to study, but you’ll be learning to read ECGs and trying to understand why the heart compensates in the strange ways it does. I would suggest picking up the either the textbook or study guide by Linda Costanzo as a reference for the course. Also, don’t worry about the quizzes — they merely exist as a weekly reminder that you do actually need to learn the material before the exam.
— Alexa P., M1
Practice of Medicine (POM)
Practice of Medicine (POM) is a longitudinal course spanning your four years at WUSM, covering the patient encounter and society and medicine. This course teaches you to take a patient history and perform a physical exam and provides ample opportunity to practice these essential skills. As early as two weeks into the first semester, we have the opportunity to enter the hospital, accompanied by fourth-year students who volunteer as our clinical mentors, to interview patients and perform portions of the physical exam. Throughout the first year, you’ll have many opportunities to meet patients and practice these skills in a variety of settings, from the emergency department to federally qualified health centers serving those with limited health care access. Additionally, guest speakers with various areas of expertise lecture and lead group discussions on topics ranging from health disparities to medical ethics, providing us with an understanding of social determinants of health and medical humanities that will be essential for our future practice as physicians.
— Zelun W., M1
Second year seems like a scary time to all of us. You have the dreaded CPR (that’s cardio, pulm, renal) block, expanded roles in the hospital (you need to learn how to present to attending physicians and write assessments and plans for the patients you see), and the looming specter of Step 1 — the first of the three-part medical licensing exam — at the end of it. Don’t let that scare you. Every student is well-prepared for second year just by surviving first year. With the new switch to pass/fail, second year is a lot less stressful than it once was. Professors are more engaging, material is more interesting, and class Anki decks are more useful (and faculty approved!). It seems insurmountable at the start, but you’ll all make it through. One step at a time.
— Nirbhay J., M2
Friends, in all of our lives we remember those moments that herald the start of an entirely new and exciting chapter of life. I would argue that the moment when you get your new pager for third year is one of those moments. That thing was so beautiful! But then it started beeping, and my oh my… And so it is with third year. Sometimes it is a rush, and sometimes a slog. But there are wonderful things to look forward to. You will scrub into and assist with surgery, get to know patients and their stories, and maybe even bring a baby out into the world. This is where it is at, guys.
— Jennifer F., M3
Fourth year is entirely elective, and the main focus is on interviewing and bracing for the match (when students find out where they will be going for residency training the next 3+ years). Each elective is four weeks, and they can be spent in the hospital, clinics, or even on reading and research rotations. Most students participate in one or more “sub-internships.” Expectations are high, as the student acts as a first-year resident (intern) to admit patients, write notes, etc. At the end of the year, WUSM’s Capstone Course is a brush up for students to re-learn basic procedures and critical skills. Match day awaits; it will be over soon!
— Colton G., M4
The USMLE Step 1 is a rite of passage for every M2 at WUSM. As a first- year, you may see and overhear the M2s stressing over how to study for what seems like a very daunting exam. However, it’s over a year away and worrying about it as an M1 is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Focus on getting to know your classmates, figuring out your learning style and enjoying Anatomy. Seriously, you never get to do this again! Leave the Step 1 stress to the M2s, and know that while it’s intimidating, the curriculum does an excellent job of preparing WUSM students for success. Remember how difficult the MCAT seemed before you took it? And how much simpler it seems now that you’ve conquered it? You’ll feel the same way after Step. Step 1 will be a challenge that you prepared for and overcame. In the meantime, consider leaving a care package for your M2 big sib. He/she will definitely appreciate it.
— Lulu Y., M4
Anki is a great resource to deal with learning the volume of information that medical school is so famous for. Anki is a flashcard program that relies on “spaced repetition” and schedules reviews of your flashcards based on how well you do on them. In other words, if you are doing well on some flashcards, there will be longer gaps between your scheduled reviews of those cards. Conversely, if you are struggling on some flashcards, those cards will show up more frequently for reviews. Anki has garnered quite a bit of fame here at WUSM, since previous classes have labored to develop comprehensive, WUSM-specific Anki decks that have been passed down over the years. I’ve found that Anki is a great way to keep up with school in an efficient way, leaving me with plenty of time to school my roommate Ryan on the basketball court.
— Matt L., M1
True Meaning of Pass/Fail
Worrying about grades is not fun. We’ve all had to do it throughout our undergraduate careers and have proven that we can perform at a high level academically even when placed in stressful testing environments. With the much greater volume of information we need to learn now, medical school has the potential to be even more stressful. Our deans realized this and made the coolest change of all time in response: they made the first two years completely pass/fail. Pass/fail means that we can be motivated to learn by our own desire to be amazing doctors, rather than just studying for a grade. Pass/fail also means (much) more time for shadowing our world-class physicians, attending salsa dance lessons, cuddling babies in the NICU or doing anything else you like to do (which for me means beating my roommate Matt 11-0 in one-on-one basketball). Imagine medical school minus the stress. That’s what we’ve got here at WUSM.
— Ryan F., M1
Washington University’s campus extends beyond the medical school, and the university has a ton to offer. Recently, the school approved dual degrees with the MPH and MPHS programs. Moreover, while not formally a dual degree program, the Olin Business School at Wash U has been incredibly welcoming and supportive of the medical students. You can now complete an MBA alongside your MD in a total of five years by taking a leave of absence after either your second or third year of medical school. As an MBA student or candidate, you’ll learn basic tools to make financial and economic decisions and see how those are applied to health care. You’ll learn how to work in and lead teams, how to speak the language of business and how to solve complex strategic and operational problems. For more information, contact the business school’s admissions department or feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Ramin L., M2