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<p>Curious what to expect of Phase 1 Year 1 curriculum of medical school? The Orientation Committee put together some tips to help new students know what to expect! Also, if you’re a Class of 2023 student, be sure to check out your Curriculum Preview with real class previews and even more classmate advice on Canvas—a [&hellip;]</p>

Tips for the first-year med school curriculum

white coat oath

Curious what to expect of Phase 1 Year 1 curriculum of medical school? The Orientation Committee put together some tips to help new students know what to expect!

Also, if you’re a Class of 2023 student, be sure to check out your Curriculum Preview with real class previews and even more classmate advice on Canvas—a part of your Class of 2023 Roadmap and Orientation Portal. In addition to more details from the Orientation Committee, you’ll also get valuable insight from the Peer Mentoring Committee.

Transitions 1: What happens the first two weeks after orientation

Haider Al-Awadi, Class of 2022 President

What you should know

This course is two weeks long and ends with an exam. Most days during transitions are full days (meaning you have class or an activity from 8/9 am until 4/5 pm). This class covers many topics including biostats, evidence-based medicine, epidemiology, and ethics. There are additional readings to add to the discussions during this course. You will have a quiz one week in that is not for a grade but rather serves to help you familiarize yourself with the online exam software. After the two-week class concludes there is an exam over the content taught that you are required to pass.


This class is very straightforward and is really meant to help you get adjusted to the medical school setting. Use this time to familiarize yourself with your campus, canvas, and especially your classmates. Be sure to learn as much as you can from class sessions and keep up with the readings and you’ll do great!

General advice

DO NOT PANIC! Medical school has a learning curve for everybody. The faculty at IU School of Medicine are aware and do a great job transitioning you into the course material and are always willing to help. The best advice is forming a study group and doing practice problems. When you begin your semester, you will realize you have a lot of free time on your hands. The rest of the time you are free to do as you wish. I found my groove studying in the morning, going to class, studying an hour after class and taking the rest of the day off. There may be days you have other things going on or need a mental break and that is ok. There is plenty of time to study for the exams if you are dedicated. I recommend spending the entire week of the exam studying as much as you can for the exam.

Remember: The curriculum is pass/fail so there is no need to be competitive with your peers, you should work to see everyone succeed. Also, pass/fail grading system allows you to be involved without stressing about tests so much. Keep in mind many resources do not need to be purchased and are available to you. When it comes time to study find what works for you. And don’t forget, you are living the dream!

Okay, so I finished Transitions 1. How do I handle the next steps?

Jered Schenk, Orientation Committee

  1. First and foremost, learn the best way FOR YOU to study. It is easy to get bogged down with the material and start trying to use other people’s study strategies.  Figure out what works well for your learning style and schedule, and stick to it.  For example, I know I am a night owl and I am most productive once everyone else leaves school.  When I could, I would sleep in late and stay up late studying because I knew that’s when I learned best. There is no one correct way to succeed.
  2. Second, talk to second-year med students to figure out which resources worked well for them. There are endless materials out there for studying, so do some research and stick to ONE OR TWO sources/campuses once you find them. Jumping from resource to resource will become overwhelming, and you will likely miss important information.
  3. Lastly, impostor syndrome is a very real thing. For the first time, you might not be the smartest person in the room, and that is okay! Everyone comes in with their individual strengths and weaknesses, and some people are more familiar with certain topics than you are. You will find there are areas that you excel in that others may not. Be collaborative and help one another. You deserve to be here, and it is important to remember that.

Here’s the lowdown: What to expect from first semester classes 

Deena Mohamed, Orientation Committee

Molecules, Cells & Tissues (MCT)

  • Topics: Biochemistry + Genetics + Embryology
  • Suggested campus resources to review: I primarily used materials by Dr. Redman (from the Fort Wayne campus). He’s also really quick at responding quickly to emails!
  • Study material recommendations: Boards and Beyond, BRS Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Embryology, Dr. King’s book; BoardVitals

Human Structure (HS)

  • Topics: Histology + Gross Anatomy + Embryology
  • Suggested campus resources to review: I recommend reviewing the learning materials by Dr. Hoffman (from the Fort Wayne campus). She has a great way of explaining complex materials and is quick to respond to email questions.
  • Study material recommendations: AccessMedicine for Anatomy and Histology, BRS Gross Anatomy, BlueHistology, BRS Embryology. Some people liked Troyer and Thompson Notes and the opt-in HistoReview on Canvas.

Foundations of Clinical Practice (FCP)

  • Topic: Basically, “how to be a doctor”
  • Tips:
    • Don’t forget to practice before your OSCEs and don’t forget to practice the write-ups!!!
    • Assignments are due almost every week—they’re easy points!

Fundamentals of Health and Disease (FHD)

  • Topics: Introduction to physiology, pharmacology and pathology, introduction to cardiology, respiration and renal
  • Suggested campus resources to review: I reviewed the learning materials at these campuses for these topics: Pathology: South Bend, pharmacology: Indianapolis (Dr. Richardson), cardiology: Dr. Tune, respiration and renal: Muncie
  • Study material recommendations: Boards and Beyond, Pathoma, Lipincott, Pre-rest, AccessMedicine, Robbins (pathology) 

Host Defense (HD)

  • Topics: Microbes (viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites), immunology, pharmacology
  • Study material recommendations: SKETCHY IS ALL YOU NEED. AccessMedicine, BRS, and BoardVitals are also helpful.

Neuroscience and Behavior (N&B)

  • Topics: Neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, pharmacology, psychiatry
  • Suggested campus resources to review: I liked reviewing the learning materials for pathology in South Bend, pharmacology in Indianapolis and everything else with Dr. Marfurt at the Northwest-Gary campus.
  • Study material recommendations: Boards and Beyond, Pathoma, Osmosis, AccesMedicine, Lipincott, and Pre-Test.

What else should I know before taking on the first year of medical school?

Shannon Jager, Orientation Committee

Things I wish I had known during first year: Study/Class Tips:


  • Just because somebody else’s study technique is “amazing, the best thing out there, the only reason they passed,” it does not mean it has to be your study technique. Maybe it’s just not your style! Everybody is going to be utilizing different resources and techniques, and you should not and cannot do them all! I have often gotten unnecessarily stressed due to resource overload. I recommend starting off semester 1 with a game plan of your study technique already in mind (or even on paper, to help you remember and stick to it). Ask for advice from older students to initially formulate the plan, but if you feel like you are learning and retaining the material and your test scores support this, stick to this study method! If your scores aren’t where you want them to be, that is when you should take the time to reevaluate, adapt, and ask for help again! I tried to have a study technique planned out on paper before the start of each new class throughout the year, because each class has its own useful resources—and then I trusted & committed to this plan!
  • Don’t fall behind… just don’t! I’m not advising this to stress you out, because even if you do fall behind (and trust me, I have), you will be able to catch back up with some extra time and effort. But why make a situation stressful when it doesn’t need to be? Just stay on top of things in the first place, and you are golden!
  • I found this tactic to be really helpful for my mental health when things were getting stressful and starting to pile up: Take a second to step back from your laundry list of things to do and consciously turn off your stress for one minute to realize and remind yourself how stinkin’ cool the information is that you are learning. And how you will apply it someday when you are a physician!! Every time I was able to step back and see the purpose and awesomeness of what I was doing at that very moment, I was able to get back to work with new perspective, energy, and dare I say… enjoyment(?!)
  • Remember to take breaks! Studying continuously for hours and hours can often reach a point of diminishing returns. It can be super super helpful to take a two-hour break: Do something you love, hang out with friends, watch The Office, go on a walk. You will come back to your work with new energy and retain information better because of it!

Tips for Human Structure

  • Spend time outside of class in the anatomy lab but not too much time. Time in the cadaver lab can be really helpful for better understanding structures and seeing things in 3D space. However, sometimes I found myself spending 5+ hours in there at a time, and I had a lot of other things left to learn! The written portion of the Human Structure Exams is 50% of your grade. The practical is only 25% (& histology is the other 25%). Keep this in perspective, & spend the majority of your time studying for the written section. Find balance.
  • Doing relevant BRS questions the day before a human structure exam? Game changer! Self-assessment with these questions really helped me solidify my understanding of test day concepts.

Tips for MCT

  • Diseases start to pile on quick! I found making disease charts on excel to be super helpful in keeping everything straight.
  • Looking at pictures (on Google) of disease presentations was also very useful in helping me remember diseases — and sometimes these types of images are tested! ​
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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