Second Year of Medical School: I Wanted to Drop Out

You have finished your first year of medical school, enjoyed your summer break, and now you are ready to tackle the second year of medical school.

Brace yourself, because it will suck! I have never disliked school as much as second year. Why? For two main reasons:

  1. second year was poorly taught
  2. you have to prepare for the first board exam (COMLEX, USMLE, or both)

Most Poorly Taught Class in My Life

Now, I do not know if second year sucking is unique for my school or if it holds true for all schools. But I am extremely disappointed at how second year was taught in my school.

My main gripe is against the clinical medicine course, which comprised of 50% of the total second year classes, because it is low yield for the board exam (the things being taught are for the second and third board exam, not for the first board exam). No one person was really responsible to oversee the quality of the course. Different clinicians would come in, sometimes unprepared because they were unaware they had to teach, and would teach on a slide and lecture that was prepared for residents, not for second year medical students. There were a few good teachers who you can tell genuinely cared but they were few and far in between.

None of my peers were happy with the course. We could all tell it was poorly taught. Upperclassmen complained about the course but not much was done to fix it.

There was such a heavy emphasis on clinical medicine that my class did not learn about antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals until April, when second year is almost over! The pharmacology teacher apologized and said that there were just too many classes in the first semester (which means too many clinical medicine classes) to fit them in. And just to add salt on an injury, if you fail two blocks of clinical medicine per semester, you had to remediate the course no matter how high your average is.

So not only do the second year students have to sit through poorly taught classes, we also had to try to learn from them. There were no practice exams to study from either for clinical medicine.

Preparing for Boards

But then on top of all that, you have to start preparing for the first board exam. In the second semester, lots of students would skip classes because we learned that it is not worth going to them. It was a much better use of our time to prepare for boards instead. So my school decided to throw in mandatory classes in the second semester, which could have easily been scheduled for the first semester.

second year of medical school - usmle

The USMLE Step 1 is not easy. The poorly taught classes in the second year of medical school is not helping either.

As I write this, my blood is boiling because the quality of education for second year is so poor. Why does it have to be this way? First year was so good. UMDNJ-SOM. I’m calling you out because you can do better for second year!

And no, I did not fail any blocks, so I do not have a personal axe to grind.

For those entering into second year, especially those in UMDNJ-SOM, I’m going to give you some hints on how to tackle the year so it will suck less.

New Priorities

You must realize that the grades during the first two years of medical school do not matter too much for residencies. Still, try to do well and at least pass, but do not be disappointed if you cannot honor. I honored some of my classes, high passed most, and even only passed a few. Overall, I would say that I did average grade-wise. But I plan do much, much higher than average on my board exam.

Your new goal is to do well on the COMLEX and USMLE. Program directors care more about board exam because it is a way to objectively compare the applicants to a residency program.

First Semester – Part 1 of the Second Year of Medical School

Overall, the first semester has a lighter course load than the second semester, especially at the beginning of the year. You can get a lot of free time by skipping classes and cramming the materials. Although I did not like to cram for first year, cramming for second year is highly recommended because the materials are taught so poorly and are so low yield, especially for clinical medicine.

I would also recommend that you group up with your friends and share notes. I did not learn about this strategy until the second semester but I am going to present it to you now so you can get the full benefit from it. So this is how the group-note-sharing strategy works:

One person from the group would attend class and share the notes with the group. Then another person from the group would attend another class and share the notes with the group. This is a good strategy for those who learn better by reading than attending class. If someone does not want to go to class at all, he or she could be in charge of doing old exams and share those with the group. Basically, divide whatever work that needs to get done between the group.

My classmates are really awesome because for some subjects, they made review sheets and shared them with the whole class. I have skipped blocks of classes, read the review sheets someone sent out to the class, and have done well on my exams. I saved hundreds of hours by doing this.

For the first semester of the second year of medical school, I did attend almost all the classes. I wish I did not and just employed the strategy I told you about. I did equally well when skipping class and cramming compared to going to class and not cramming. The main difference is that the first option saved me so much time.

second year of medical school - no sleep

The proper way of studying for the second year of medical school is to cram. Sleep is over-rated.

With all that free time, you can enjoy life or get started for board exam studying. If you are on top of things and do not like to procrastinate, it is a good idea to start preparing for Step 1 during the beginning of second year. Now I understand there will be lots that you did not learn yet. For example, pharmacology and pathology are second year courses. I would not have learned them yet in the beginning of second year. However, in the first year, I did learn physiology and biochemistry. So if I was starting to prepare for boards in the first semester, I would review and do practice questions on those subjects that I have already learned.

If you start preparing for boards early, you will suffer less later on.

Second Semester – Part 2 of the Second Year of Medical School

Personally, I went to class in the first semester. But for the second semester, I decided to skip class and buckle down to study for the first board exam hard. So starting in January 2012, I would wake up, do 50 to 100 questions, review them, and take notes in the First Aid. That would take about 8 to 12 hours to do this thoroughly. I will write about my method for board exam studying in another post, so watch out for that.

If a school exam was coming up, I would take a 3 day break from Step 1 studying and just cram whatever I had to learn for the block.

Between studying for Step 1, cramming for classes, going to required classes, and working on my website, I made a 180 degrees change to my lifestyle. I gave up socializing with my group of friends and gave up working out. This was very depressing and I was googling “drop out of medical school” almost every day because I was seriously considering dropping out. What I have done in the second semester was very intense, which is why I suggested you to start studying for boards earlier, in the first semester.


Second year sucks. It is supposed to be the worst of the four years of medical school. In fact, it was the worst year of my life. But by God’s grace, I got through it. Just remember to pass second year courses and make sure you rock your boards!

Objective for the Second Year of Medical School

  • pass second year (by cramming)
  • prepare for and rock the COMLEX and USMLE

You can find a list of classes I took for second year of medical school in the subjects taught in medical school section. You can find tips on how to tackle each class. I highly recommend that you learn about how to prepare for each class so second year of medical school will suck less, especially if you go to UMDNJ in Stratford, NJ.

Second Year Courses

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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