Best books for first-year medical students

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The course schedule is different between medical schools around the world. Europe tends to follow a certain schedule in its curriculum, the US has another schedule, as does an MBBS in India.

While not entirely similar, many courses deal with the same subjects during the first year. Because of this, I was able to come up with a general recommendation, based on my reviews of the recommended textbooks for the 1. And 2. Semester across several medical universities in the United States, Europe (including the UK), and India. The best books for first-year medical students include:

  • Anatomy: Netters atlas of human anatomy and Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy
  • Biochemistry: Lippincott’s illustrated review Biochemistry
  • Embryology: Moore’s the developing human
  • Physiology: Guyton and Hall textbook of human physiology
  • Histology: Junqueira’s Basic Histology
  • Pathology: Robbins basic pathology

The actual subjects and recommended textbooks can be different for your university. Therefore I always recommend that you seek out your universities schedule and recommended textbooks.

If you want to know more about the process I used to evaluate these books. You can read my article about evaluating medical textbooks.

Anatomy

Anatomy is one of the first major subjects you will encounter in med school. It is mostly a visual field. Recognizing and memorizing the name of body structures is important.

Yet, there is also an important theoretical part. This covers the physiological and clinical relevance of anatomy.

I had both an anatomy atlas and a textbook. I went for Netter’s atlas of human anatomy, and Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy. I found both books to cover the subject brilliantly, and I can highly recommend them.

The Netter atlas contains hundreds of anatomical illustrations of the entire human anatomy. These include everything from internal organs to the bare bones.

Almost all are painted by the late, great American surgeon and medical illustrator Frank H. Netter. You might think that painted illustrations don’t translate well to what you see in real life. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Moore’s clinically oriented anatomy gives you a comprehensive insight into clinical human anatomy.

Unlike the atlases, it is a textbook with a special focus on the relevant clinical anatomy. This includes anatomy involved in physical diagnosis and interpretation of diagnostic imaging. Also, it tackles the anatomical aspects of emergency medicine and general surgery.

This textbook was my go-to book whenever I needed to supplement with some theoretical knowledge.

You can read my full review on the best anatomy textbooks and why I found these to be the best by clicking this link.

Biochemistry

I hated biochemistry. I thought it was boring and monotonous. It might have something to do with how it was thought, which in my case was a lot of memorization. Another reason I didn’t like it was because I struggled with it.

I tried many books, but my favorite is Lippincott’s biochemistry (link to amazon). This book carried me through the subject. The presentation is student-friendly and it costs less than its more complicated peers. 

Although branded as a review book, I think it’s far from it. It spans over 500 pages, and I found it to go through all the material necessary for my course.

What I like most about this book is its ability to present the material in a student-friendly manner. The text is easy to read and the material is comprehensible. The text is supplied with nice and well-placed illustrations and tables.

In addition, each chapter ends with a high-yield, visual summary. Also, you are presented with a few multiple-choice questions to review your knowledge. 

While it’s not the most comprehensive book on the subject, it covers everything you need. It is highly recommended by medical students worldwide. Check it out yourself by clicking this link to Amazon. Here you can get a preview of the book and get its current price.

You can read my full review on the best biochemistry textbooks and why i found Lippincott’s to be the best by clicking this link.

Embryology

The emphasis on the subject varies greatly between universities. Some universities cover it only superficially, which means you might not need a textbook.

If the subject is actively taught, a textbook comes in handy. There are two books that fight for being the student’s number 1 pick. Keith Moores The developing human and Langman’s Medical embryology.

Personally, I had Moore’s the developing human and I highly recommend it. I found the illustrations very intuitive, which is key to understanding many aspects of the subject.

If embryology is more of a side subject baked into your general anatomy studies etc. You can get by with a less comprehensive review book. High-yield embryology from the high yield series or the BRS embryology book comes highly recommended by many students. These ones also come in handy if you need to study for the USMLE later.

You can read my full review on the best embryology textbooks and why i found Moore’s to be the best by clicking this link.

Physiology

Physiology is one of the most important pre-clinical subjects. Few subjects can match its future clinical relevance. This, however, depends on you understanding the material. 

There are several good books on the subject, but I highly recommend Guyton and Hall textbook of medical physiology. It is widely regarded as the gold-standard in the field of medical physiology, Which it has been since its first edition was released in 1956. 

Its 1172 pages are packed with in-depth material covering all aspects of medical physiology and provides everything you need for your physiology course.

While some might find it too dry, lengthy or confusing, I consider it to be the best textbook for the subject, offering the most value for the price you are pay. 

You can check it out by clicking this link to head over to Amazon. Here you can get a sneak preview and get its current price.

You can read my full review on the best physiology textbooks and why i found Guyton and Hall to be the best by clicking this link.

Histology

Histology is often grouped into your anatomy or cell biology early in med school. The degree to which you get a full textbook will vary. It depends on how your school teaches the subject.

One book that will serve its purpose regardless of how the subject is taught is Junqueira’s Basic Histology. great visuals, which are important for the subject. Also, they cover all aspects of histology and cell biology needed for your course.

Some students argue that other books have better pictures. Don’t take their word for it, check it out yourself by following this link to Amazon. Here you can get a look into the book as well as get its current price.

You can read my full review on the best histology textbooks and why i found Junqueira’s to be the best by clicking this link.

Pathology

In addition to being a very interesting subject which gives you a proper insight into what the medical profession is all about, Pathology is heavily tested in the USMLE Step 1. Because of this, you might want to invest in a proper information source.

A book that I highly recommend and that I used myself is Robbins basic pathology. This full-length, comprehensive textbook provides you with all your need for your basic medical school pathology course. 

Despite its size/length and attention to detail, I found the material to be palatable and presented in a student-friendly manner and I’m sure you will too. 

You also get a Student Consult eBook version included when purchasing. This allows you to search all of the text, figures, and images from the book on a variety of devices. You can also access virtual microscope slides, which are a great aid for histopathology, self-assessment questions and updated pathology case studies.

You can read my full review on the best pathology textbooks and why I found Robbins to be the best by clicking this link.

Closing remarks

Before finishing up, I would like to emphasise again that some of these subjects might be taught the second year (3rd and 4th semester). I know this to be the case for both physiology and pathology in many universities across Europe.

Therefore, make sure to check your schedule and course curriculum before purchasing any of the recommended books. 

I hope you find this review useful. If there are any subjects or books you feel are missing from this list, be sure to contact me through the email on the about page.

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