Medical School Microbiology: Memorize, Memorize, Memorize

What Is Medical School Microbiology?

In microbiology class, you will be learning about the different organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) that cause diseases. And when I say learning, I really mean memorizing. For each pathogenic organism, you will have to know their class (i.e. gram-positive cocci), their virulence factor (or what components of the organism causes the disease and evades the human body’s defenses), their distinguishing factors (i.e. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is blue-green and gives off a grape-like odor), and the diseases they cause.

Considering that there are hundreds of infectious organisms, the amount of materials you have to learn and memorize is staggering. I am currently preparing for the COMLEX 1, the first of three national medical exams for osteopathic students, and I just finished covering medical school microbiology on my own. And all I have to say is that microbiology is basically just intense memorization. At times, I wish there was technology to implant a chip in the brain to retrieve data. Anyways, back to the subject.

Microbiology in My School

As brutal as the subject is, microbiology is actually one of my favorite classes in medical school. Although the amount of information to memorize is quite large, the teacher was amazing. My conclusion regarding any class in medical school is that it is the teachers that make the subjects interest, not the other way around.

I could tell that the teacher dedicated a lot of effort into making sure the students understood the materials.

In the teacher’s slides, there were lots and lots of pictures and very few words. If the teacher is talking about gram-positive cocci bacteria, she would have a picture of it. She also used the funny and sometimes outrageous images from Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple in her presentation. (Read the additional resources section for information on Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple.) The various pictures helped me to remember the information.

medical school microbiology - hot tub folliculitis

I saw this picture in one of my second year classes when the presenter was talking about hot tub folliculitis. I thought it was hilarious. With that many people in a hot tub, someone is bound to get a rash.

I also appreciated the practice questions. Again, these helped to reinforce what was taught in class.

As a side note, this may or may not be unique for my school, my immunology was combined with microbiology. So the subject for the first block was for immunology. And the rest of the year was dedicated to the bugs.

How to Succeed in Medical School Microbiology?

I did well in class. But looking back, the teacher eased the class into the material. The first few exams had tons of hints to point us towards the right bugs. In the later exams, each question had only two pieces of information to help you arrive at the right answer. So I had to memorize almost everything about each bug to do well.

I did go to almost every class, but looking back, it is not required.

What I would recommend you do and what really helped for me is to make charts. It is much easier to memorize from a few pages of charts then to look through several hundred slides. So after every lecture, compile the information into a chart using Microsoft Excel. Take a look below to see what it could look like.

medical school microbiology chart

This is a section of my gastrointestinal bugs chart. Click on the image for a bigger view.

Like most medical school subjects, success in microbiology can be had with enough practice questions. As I previously mentioned, my teacher provided ample practice questions. I basically just memorized from my chart and did the sample questions before every exam.

Study Tips

  • make and memorize from charts
  • do practice questions

Additional Medical School Microbiology Resources

I did not use any additional materials beyond what the teacher has provided. But others have used additional resources, so you may want to check it out.


Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple is a highly rated book that many medical students use throughout their classes and when preparing for boards. My teacher has used various images from this book in her slides.

Even so, I did not use this book, so do your own research before you buy it. The main reason I did not use the book is because it is about 400 pages of small, condensed words. It just is not my style because it is too inefficient. The pictures are really creative though.

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.


  1. Annabelle Elic Silvester says:

    I need help on my study in microbiology

  2. Hello,
    Am actually struggling with this subject microbiology. the highest I have had so far is a C and I actually need to upgrade to an A. Please what sort of advise could you give me? Here is my email address in case you need to contact
    king regard,

  3. I need major help in microbiology. please help me

  4. brian kemboi says:

    am going to a microbiology school in the next 2 months…..i feel quite tensed up….please give me some hint on how i will get my self right on board without having to transnight so much…..maybe just a little😋……here is my e-mail…

    • Medical Microbiology, 7th Edition, by Dr. Patrick R. Murray, Dr. Ken S.
      I find this a great book that u can really read through fast and it really explains annoying difficult concepts. I’m using it now for my final in 7 days.

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