Essential Books for the First Year of Medical School

What books do you really need for the first year of medical school?

This is not an easy question to answer. Everyone uses textbooks differently. I am not a huge fan of textbooks, at least not as the primary way to learn something. Medical school  textbooks are also notoriously expensive and I am always trying to find way to cut unnecessary spending. What follows is a brief list of books that I found most helpful (or wish I had used more) during my first year of medical school. I have divided the list into three categories:

1. Recommended

2. Mostly for Second Year, Useful for First Year

3. Optional


Netter Atlas of Human Anatomynetter

  • I cannot imagine making it through anatomy without Netter. The labeling can often be busy and overwhelming, but you come to appreciate the detail. Read my full review here.

The Human Brain in Photographs and Diagramshuman brain

  • Our school teaches Neuroscience during the first year, which may not be the case everywhere. Whenever you take Neuro, this book is extremely useful. It displays every useful pathway in an easy to understand way.

Mostly for Second Year, Useful for First Year

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1first aid 2013

  • One of my biggest regrets from the first two years is not getting a copy of First Aid earlier. It won’t make or break your first year, but getting familiar with the book will be helpful in the long run as you approach Step 1. Sections on biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology would be especially helpful to look over during first year courses.


  • If you’re starting med school soon, you’ll quickly learn about Robbins (everyone seems to forget about poor Cotran). Complaining about how big the book is is basically a rite of passage. If your school has access to an electronic copy, using that may be a better option than purchasing it.

Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously SimpleMicro

  • Most of this book will be used whenever you take Infectious Disease, but some schools have an Intro to Microbiology course in the first year. This book is fun and easy to read.


These books I may have used sparingly in my first year or know fellow students who found them helpful. Read a little about them and see if they might be for you.

Medical students, are there any other books that you found essential your first year of medical school?

3 thoughts on “Essential Books for the First Year of Medical School”

  1. I wouldn’t have made it through 1st year med school without Netter! Very very useful. I still use it in my 3rd and 4th year ! I also found Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology useful in first year med school. :)

  2. A potential solution to the size issue of Robbins or any other very large textbook is to get the Kindle version of it. I have the Kindle version of both Robbins and Cecil. They are still easy to navigate and you copy/paste/screen capture figures and tables for notes or even presentations.

  3. Dear Herbert, What are your comments on other ESF & soolhcs that offer IB sylLabus, esp. how did you finally decided to choose CKY instead of others? To me, good Chinese & discipine is very important, does CKY fit me? budget would also be a concern!thanks, Edel

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