Medical School Histology: Making Sense of All the Dots

What Is Medical School Histology?

Medical school histology is the study of human cells. In this course, you will be examining various parts of the human body under a microscope to see exactly what makes up that particular organ.

The course is the precursor to pathology. First, you will be learning what normal cells look like through histology. And in the second year, during pathology class, you will be learning what abnormal cells look like.

The class comprises of two parts: lecture and lab.

In lecture, you will learn about the organ as a whole and then the components of the organ. So if the current section is on cardiology, you can expect to learn about the layers of a blood vessel, what a heart muscle would look like under a microscope, the components of a muscle. And sometimes, the information would overlap with other classes, such as anatomy and physiology.

In the lab, you will look at lots of slides under a microscope. There should be a lab guide on what you should expect to see. Basically, follow along the guide and you should do fine.

medical school histology - tooth

Tell me this does not look like a bunch of mush. Can you tell what this is without the labels?

Histology in My School

From my experience, medical school histology is a fair course. The teacher taught it well and was able to connect the materials with what I learned in other classes. I remember taking a physiology test and being able to answer a particular question because I learned about it in histology.

Our school is pretty high-tech, and I did not have to use a microscope during lab. All I had to use was my laptop. The various slides were magnified and saved onto the internet. With a click on the mouse, I could bring up the slide. I could also zoom in and zoom out depending on what I was looking for. I really enjoyed the ease of use. I’m sure if I had to use a microscope and move the slide around, lab would have been unpleasant.

How to Succeed in Medical School Histology?

By God’s grace, I always did well in the course. I always attended class and went to lab. I hardly skipped anything. But looking back, I would not say that going to class was the reason for my success. In the beginning, I was struggling to understand the materials. When the teacher was talking about the different types of epithelium, I did not even know what an epithelium was. What I did for the first block was to research anything and everything that I did not know.

Practice is always good for any class and medical school histology is no exception. Besides looking at the lecture slides, the three best things I did to prepare me for the exams were looking over Digital Histology, doing practice questions, and going to lab.

Digital Histology is a Godsend

Digital Histology (or Digital Histo) is an excellent teaching program. It is organized by system so it is perfect in a system-based curriculum. Most importantly, it has pictures and clearly explains each aspect of the picture. This certainly beats reading a textbook. Because of this program, I was able to understand medical histology much better. More details on Digital Histology are found at the bottom, under additional medical school histology resources. I highly suggest you continue reading to see what the program is like.

Always Do Practice Problems

Doing practice questions is a no brainer. My teacher was nice enough to give out review questions for both lecture and lab to help gauge my understanding of the materials. If your teacher gives out practice questions, do them. Another good source of practice questions is Blue Histology. It has a lot of multiple-choice questions to help you understand the materials. Details are found below at additional resources.

Go to Lab

In my school, medical histology lab was optional. Thus, many people did not go. Surprisingly, I went to all the labs, not because I am a good student, but because it is very helpful to do so.

I partnered up with a really smart and quick-minded person in class and breezed through the lab in an hour, even though we were allotted 3 hours for lab. To make sure we would finish in one hour, I would read over the lab guide before class. Whatever I did not know, she may know. Whatever she did not know, I may know. And if both did not know, the teacher is just a couple of steps away. By the end of lab, we knew everything we were supposed to.

Since my lab is all done on the computer, after I knew my slides, I would save the images into my computer and then label it. This way, I can quickly review what I have done in lab right before my exams. I suck at memorizing and remembering things, and this extra step I took made a big difference in my memory retention.

Study Tips

  • look over Digital Histology
  • do practice questions
  • go to lab and make review images

Additional Medical School Histology Resources

The following resources below were very useful in my studies, not counting the slides from the teachers.


If you looked at my guide on medical school books, you will not find any mention of Digital Histology, even though it comes with a book. You won’t need a book; you only need the software.

As I mentioned above, this program rocks when it comes to learn about histology. Let me give you a preview of what it is.

medical school histology - digital histology 1

See for yourself how the Digital Histology categorizes the information.

medical school histology - digital histology 2

This is a sample slide on stratified epithelium. Notice the labeled picture above and description below. You bet that I know my stratified epithelium now.

The pictures are big and clear, the explanations are succinct, and it beats reading a textbook hands-down. Definitely get Digital Histology.

Since this is a software, it may not work on all computers. Understand that I am using a PC. I do not know if this program would work on a Mac. So make sure you do your own research before you buy. I’m sure that one of the upperclassmen will have this software so if you want to save a bit of money (and I’m sure everyone would like to save money), so ask him or her to lend it with you.

Online Resource(s)

Blue Histology is another resource that I mentioned previously. And all I have to say about this is that it is free and it is awesome! I only used the multiple-choice questions (MCQ Quiz) to test my knowledge, but it offers much more than it. It is a big resource on anything histology-related. This is another reason that you do not need a medical school histology textbook.

Hey, you! Do you want to know how an accountant, without a science background, made it through medical school without any difficulty? Do you want to know how I memorized a sea of information without cracking my skull in half and dumping the books into my brain? No, I did not slave away all night studying in the library either. If you want to know my complete study system, check out The Secret of Studying.

This article is part of the How to Survive Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about surviving academic hell.

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