Physio quizzes only exist to prevent you from failing.

Course Master: Robert Mercer, PhD (
Block: 1 and 2
Teaching Style: Lecture and some small group
Grading: Two multiple-choice exams and several quizzes
Passing: 70%

Physiology is certainly the most math- and physics-intensive course in the first block, which is a good break from the more memorization-centered classes (*cough* Anatomy).
This class is pretty straightforward for some students and conceptually challenging for others. If you are comfortable with math, engineering or physics you should have little trouble but if you aren’t, don’t fret. You are not alone and will have plenty of resources (including your classmates) to help you master the concepts you need. The course is set up to give every student of every background the tools needed to succeed in the course. The TAs are really dedicated to teaching you in the small group sessions, and quizzes and old tests are readily available. The course is changing a bit, but Bob is receptive to feedback and loves buying your loyalty with treats.

— Doug H., M1


Course Master: Paul Bridgman, PhD (
Block: 1-2
Teaching style: Lecture and microscope lab
Grading: Three exams (each with a separate multiple-choice “theoretical” portion and a “practical” cell-identification timed component), lab attendance
Passing: 70%

Histology can be very overwhelming at first because, in all honesty, a purple-stained circle looks very much like a pink-stained circle, and a “corkscrew-shaped” nucleus isn’t really “corkscrew-shaped” at all. With practice, however, you’ll start to be able to tell more shades of pink and purple apart than you ever knew existed, and if you’re lucky you might even get to see the elusive basophil (probably not). Histology is a straightforward class. The most challenging part is actually sorting through the abundant resources and supplementary material available to students. I recommend a combination of the coursepack, old exams and regular visits to Slide Atlas. This year, there is a new histology iBook, a downloadable resource that integrates readings, annotated slides and supplementary videos. In order to avoid being caught by surprise by the fast pace of the timed practical exam, make sure you also attend the TAs’ practice practical and you’ll be good to go.

— Jorge Z. R., M1

Human Anatomy and Development: Anatomy, Embryology, Radiology

Great times with Anatomy table 11. Dr. Conroy looks so proud.

Course Master: Glenn Conroy, PhD (
Block: 1
Teaching Style: Lecture and lab
Grading: Three exams, with combined structure identification and testing of conceptual understanding
Passing: 65%

Anatomy is largely the most highly anticipated, yet anxiety-provoking, course for incoming medical students. While no one gets through anatomy without working incredibly hard, it’s safe to say Anatomy is most students’ favorite class in Block 1. The anatomy professors are absolutely outstanding. Led by the beloved Conroys, a married couple who have taught anatomy at WashU for 30 years, the anatomy course team is supplemented with Dr. Dikranian, who will never fail to make you laugh, but will also never fail to find the most minute of structures. Additional full-time faculty, visiting faculty and extremely qualified TAs are also available so there is never a shortage of help in the lab. WUSM’s Anatomy lab is newly renovated and amazing. Clinical lectures from surgeons and physicians put all the anatomy that we learn into context. During lab, small groups of students are pulled out for small group radiology lectures that cover X-ray, CT and MRI images. In summation, along the way, you might cry, but you will most certainly laugh, form incredible bonds with your classmates and learn more than you ever thought possible.

— Emily M., M1

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Course Master: Bob Mercer, PhD (
Block: 1
Teaching Style: Lecture and journal club
Grading: three in-class exams, three take home exams (75%), discussion section (25%)
Passing: B or better (semi-curved) for graduate school credit

If you are a MSTP student, chances are you will be spared from the Molecular Foundation of Medicine (MFM) course and will elect to take Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) instead. Why? Because it counts towards you’re your medical school and graduate school requirements, it’s a chance to bond with your fellow MSTPs and it counts for a basic science selection. Also, Brian says so. Though optional, every MSTP in my class, and most in the past classes, have chosen to take this course, regardless of their intended graduate school program. The course is quite a bit different from MFM: The content focuses less on metabolism or biochemistry and focuses more on cell biology and the experimental basis for these discoveries. Disadvantages: The lectures are not recorded and the exams are usually the same week as the Anatomy exam, but experts in the topic of the day give the lectures and if you go to the TA reviews, you will be well on the way to tackling MCB.

— Josh A., M1

Molecular Foundations of Medicine

Course Master: Linda Pike, PhD (
Block: 1
Teaching Style: Lecture and small group case studies
Grading: Two multiple-choice exams and two quizzes
Passing: 70%

The Molecular Foundations of Medicine (MFM) class is about understanding the fundamentals of cellular and biological pathways, and learning what parts of these pathways can go wrong to lead to disease. This course is one of the most organized and clearly structured classes in first year. Dr. Pike focuses her lectures on relevant clinical correlations. Topics covered in the course include protein-folding and prion diseases, body weight homeostasis and obesity, apoptosis and cancer pathology, and so much more! If you ever have to miss class to shadow, volunteer or just sleep in after midterm week, Dr. Pike’s exceptional coursepack is your most loyal friend. This makes up for the fact that only audio recordings, not video recordings, are available for this class. Dr. Pike shares her passion for nutrition and healthy eating through the “Know Your Food” segment at the beginning of every class (she REALLY disapproves of pizza). The course also features several fascinating guest lecturers, including Dr. Pike’s husband!

— Shamaita M., M1


Course Master: Barry Sleckman, PhD (
Block: 2
Teaching Style: Lecture, small groups and labs
Grading: Two take-home exams and one in-class final exam
Passing: 70%

Immunology, simply put, is a fantastic course. Since my only prior exposure to this subject was a couple of cursory overviews in college, I was prepared to be overwhelmed and frustrated. What ended up happening, however, was quite the opposite. The material can be tricky, but everything about the course is student friendly. The coursepack entries and lecture slides almost always synced up, the objectives were clear and manageable, and the other teaching methods (case studies and small groups) were well executed. Our school’s immunology department is strong and reputable which actually translates to instructors that are passionate about the material they are teaching. In second year, immunology is constantly popping up in the pathogenesis and treatment of diseases, and I feel more than confident with my background knowledge. I know Anatomy is the most exciting part of medical school and what everyone at home asks about, but I get the feeling Immunology does not mind being the hidden gem of the first year curriculum. Do yourself a favor and dive headfirst into those amazing complement pathways!

— Jordan J., M2

Microbes and Pathogenesis

Gotta catch’em all microbes.

Course Masters: Henry Huang, PhD ( and Scott Hultgren, PhD (
Block: 2
Teaching Style: Lecture, large group cases and one day of small group lab
Grading: One multiple-choice exam, three short quizzes and large group participation
Passing: 65%

This is one of the first times during first year that I felt like I was actually learning about diseases that I might see in the future. From E. coli to tuberculosis to neglected tropical diseases, this course covers it all. You will enjoy Dr. Caparon’s introductory lectures on the framework for learning about microbes (which is strangely entirely based on Pokemon). You will learn how antibiotics work, why people are becoming resistant to antibiotics, and how to treat diseases like HIV and bird flu! In one of the most exciting lectures of the year, you will learn about bioterrorism and how we defend ourselves from dangerous biological agents that can be used in warfare. Near the end of the course, you will consider case studies and see first-hand what the different bacterial colonies look like under the microscope. Microbes and Pathogenesis is an overall interesting and engaging course that helps you build the framework for your second-year course in infectious diseases.

— Ally S., M2

Medical Genetics

This is how much our class loves Dr. Nunez.

Course Master: Sabrina Nunez, PhD (
Block: 2
Teaching Style: Lecture and small groups
Grading: Problem sets, quizzes and
final exam
Passing: 70%

It’s definitely the age of the genome and we’ll be using genetic information to treat our patients soon enough! Luckily, this course will prepare you for 21st century medicine. The course master, Dr. Nunez, is very enthusiastic and wants the course to work for you. She individually responds to problem sets with feedback (yep, for all 123 of us!). Most of the work in the course is graded on a participation basis, so you can focus on learning. If you love genetics, you’ll really enjoy this course and even if you haven’t had a great experience in the past with genetics, you’ll love it.

— Sampat S., M1

Neural Sciences

Course Master: David Van Essen, PhD (
Block: 3
Teaching Style: Lecture, small groups and labs
Grading: Two exams with written and lab practical portions
Passing: 70%

Though you might be feeling a bit like a zombie wandering back from spring break to finish up first year, don’t despair; you only have one block to go! Neuro block switches things up a bit, integrating Anatomy (aha, you thought you were done!), Histology, lectures, and small group case studies all focused on that incredibly important organ, the brain. You’ll become fast friends with the famous TA of years past, Rob, whose alliterative “Rob’s Roundups” help distill the intimidating complexities of neural tracts and nuclei into succinct summaries for every lecture. This block is excellent for those who like flexible schedules; most of the abundant small groups are optional (though often fun and worthwhile), and the lighter course load is a welcome respite for those with summer already on their minds, or those who want to get started early on summer research. That’s not to say that the block won’t be a challenge. After all, it wouldn’t be called Neurology block if you didn’t ever have to use your brain (pun intended), but overall it’s a popular block and a great way to cap off first year!

— Emily M., M2

Practice of Medicine I (POM)

Listen to your heart when he’s calling for you. Listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do.

Course Master: Gregory Polites, MD (
Block: 1-3
Teaching Style: Lecture, small groups, practice sessions, various out-of-class activities
Grading: Standardized patient sessions, multiple-choice exams
Passing: 70% (but below 75%, you have to meet with Dr. Polites to admit you only studied for an hour before the final)

Practice of Medicine (POM) I is the longest-running, most varied course of first year. It includes shadowing local primary care physicians and residents, learning clinical skills, meeting patients with chronic disease, discussions of ethics, public health, and professionalism, and more. The doctoring skills you will learn run the gamut, from basic, such as when to “foam in” (always), to how to test three cranial nerves with just a wave of your hand (sounds magical, doesn’t it?). There are also experiences with standardized patients (paid actors), which simulate USMLE Step 2 CS exam scenarios. As you learn the components of the medical history and physical exam, you solidify these skills by practicing them on patient volunteers under the mentorship of a fourth-year medical student; the first time you don your glistening white coat, throw your shiny new stethoscope around your neck and unconfidently stride into the hospital to see your first patient will be one of the most terrifying, exhilarating and fulfilling experiences of your life. Even if you’re less-than-thrilled to engage in facilitated ethics debates, POM is your connection to clinical medicine and may be the most meaningful course of first year.

— Victor K., M1


You will never need to buy a textbook. In part, this is because every professor posts a free coursebook PDF, which includes all of the relevant reading. Also, Becker Medical Library has an extensive collection of legal electronic copies of assigned textbooks (your more nefarious upperclassmen may have other electronic copies for you as well). Professors recommend (but do not require) textbook readings, and in many cases these present the most coherent treatment of the material (e.g. Costanzo for Physiology, Netter’s for Anatomy). If you don’t like a given textbook, alternatives abound, often in the form of USMLE review books. Textbooks are millennial arcana. Increasingly for digital natives, YouTube and UptoDate supplant textbooks as our premier teaching tools.

— Ian F., M1


Japanese for “memorization,” Anki is a great tool for those who relied on paper flash cards in college (and everyone, because active recall is a very effective way to remember material). Anki is an app for creating electronic flash cards and for learning them based on “spaced repetition.” In other words, Anki schedules your cards based on how well you know them. This means no more sorting stacks of cards and a much faster way for creating cards. Anki has features such as “cloze deletion,” which allows you to quiz yourself on multiple words in a sentence and “image occlusion,” which allows you to quiz yourself on certain parts of an image (such as a structure in anatomy). There are multiple ways that students use Anki. Some use it to memorize specific sets of information, and some use it for everything. Also, previous students have made decks that can be found on WUMSWeb, including our awesome anatomy decks!

— Derek S. & Julia K., M1

The True Meaning of Pass/Fail

Far grander than E=mc2 or V=IR, more beautiful than anything Pythagoras ever developed, a formula that truly rivals Newton’s laws in its universality … P=MD is, unequivocally, the single most important equation of our generation. While passing one’s exams here at WUSM should not be taken for granted and indeed requires work, pulling weekly all-nighters and falling behind on your four Netflix episodes/night are over! With Pass/Fail the saying, “medical school is like drinking water from a fire hose” is more akin to “medical school is like drinking water from a fire hose, but saving enough room for a few beers.” Rather than focusing on the insignificant minutiae of the Krebs cycle, you can redirect your energy to studying the important clinical implications. Or better yet, refuel your own ATP with $1 burger night at Bar Louie! You have spent your life manipulating grading curves by spreading misinformation like a Soviet spy. Well my little studentsky, remember: In Soviet WUSM, school passes you! Comrades, Pass/Fail offers students the opportunity to figure out their most effective study strategies, hang out with friends, and be part of a phenomenally collaborative environment.

— Joni L., M1

Second Year

Second year is, well, a bit more serious than first year. Yes, there are grades. At a med school. In 2015. You might have to actually go to class (or at least watch lectures). But you will be rewarded by finally feeling like you’re “really in medical school.” First year, to many, was more or less a continuation of undergrad, in that it was a lot of basic science information taught by PhDs in ways that are often difficult to connect to your eventual career as a practicing physician. Luckily, you don’t really need to do all that much to get by during first year besides show up every few weeks to take an exam or three. In second year, by contrast, you will spend most of your time learning about actual diseases that will afflict your actual future patients. You will be taught by MDs and learn how to develop differential diagnoses and treatment plans for real conditions. It is, in short, much more rewarding, engaging and important. It is also much more demanding, but if you made it through undergrad and did well enough to be reading this book, then you can definitely make it through second year.

One tip: Try to punctuate your pre-clinical years with as much actual clinical experience as you can. This will not only help you better retain the material you are learning in the classroom, it will also help you stay motivated and remind you why you’re here. And believe me, after spending 10 hours studying some obscure diseases of some obscure body parts you never even knew you had, you might need a little reminding.

— Jyoti D., M2

Third Year

In no particular order, third year consists of:

  • 12 weeks of internal medicine (one four-week outpatient, two four-week inpatient)
  • 12 weeks of surgery (four weeks general surgery, four weeks musculoskeletal, four weeks elective)
  • Four weeks of neurology + four weeks of psychiatry + four weeks wildcard (e.g., radiology, emergency med, pathology, etc.)
  • Six weeks of pediatrics (two weeks inpatient, two weeks outpatient, two weeks elective) + six weeks of obstetrics/gynocology (two weeks labor and delivery, two weeks surgery, two weeks elective)

Lecture is a few hours per week; shelf exams are at the end of each clerkship (except wildcard). Third year is both thrilling and humbling. You’re working harder and longer than you thought you could, only to realize everyone above you is doing even more. That mountain of knowledge that seemed insurmountable is now manageable, but replaced with a bigger mountain that you’ll spend the rest of your career tackling. You can at times feel lost and frustrated, which is totally normal. However, you’ll also get to put on that white coat you almost forgot you had and actually interact with patients, families and the health care team on a regular basis. You’ll experience some of the most uplifting and heartbreaking parts of medicine. You’ll get truly invested in what’s going on around you, in ways that you can’t when you spend your days sitting in a lecture hall staring at slides for hours on end. And one day at the end, you’ll blink and realize it’s over. It’s truly a roller-coaster of an experience, and one that really starts your development into a physician.

— Stephanie V., M4

Fourth Year

Fourth year … ah, the promised land. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s certainly the best year of them all. The best part? It’s (almost) completely elective. That may not mean a lot to you now, but trust me when I say that you’ll be extremely excited about it come fourth year. This is the year you get to spread your wings and show people that you’re prepared to be an intern … or take a lot of vacations. Most people start off doing sub-internships in their specialty of choice, peppered with some away rotations (depending on the competitiveness of their future specialty). From there, it’s up to you what to make of the year. You’re allowed to do up to 12 weeks of research, four weeks of a reading elective, four weeks of a special study elective, and eight weeks of vacation, generally reserved for interview season and/or the end of the year. In addition to the non-clinical electives, there’s a huge amount of clinical rotations to suit your every whim, from EKG reading to palliative care to the cardio-thoracic ICU. The only required course is the Capstone, which is an internship crash course done at the end of the year that is universally loved by students come July 1. This is what you’ve been working towards for the past three years. Enjoy!

— Elyse A. E., M4


If you are like me and find sitting in class to be a little boring, somewhat demoralizing and highly demotivating, shadowing is for you. Now that you are a medical student at WashU, doctors will be falling all over themselves to have you shadow them. You will get to meet incredible, inspiring doctors, brave and funny patients, and you will be reminded of why you decided to go through the long and difficult process that is a career in medicine. Shadow surgeons, shadow medical doctors, shadow in specialties you have never even considered. Your first year in medical school is a great time to explore what it means to be a doctor and where you might want to take your career. Plus, it’s way better than sitting in class all day.

— Emily D., M1