If you are about to start your first year of medical school (or perhaps already started) and are eager to know which textbooks will best support your studies, you have come to the right place. First of all: congratulations on your admittance to this career path. You have already demonstrated your work ethic, academic potential, and desire to help others through medicine. Medical school will provide you with the opportunity to acquire a stable foundation of knowledge that will enable you to protect and serve patients in need. The books that we recommend as the best textbooks for medical students are well-known within medical education, and you are likely to find them supportive to your journey.
Consider picking up a hard copy (or, if you prefer to read from your computer, an e-book) of these textbooks sooner rather than later, as you will find yourself referring to them repeatedly throughout medical school. Keep in mind that our opinions should not dictate your decision-making. Find out which textbooks are recommended by your institution, since these may best accompany your coursework.
Though you will spend long hours reviewing lectures, study aids, and textbooks, remember that an immaculate understanding of scientific concepts is only of secondary importance to the skill that you will rely upon most heavily: interpersonal communication. Social interaction is at the heart of the profession and though many physicians can recite the names of obscure bacteria, exceptional physicians are distinguished by the acuity and efficiency of their verbal and nonverbal communication in the exam room, operating room, cafeteria, conference podium, and so forth. You will learn a lot of medical facts, but don’t forget to cultivate your people skills. Stay humble and may good fortune be on your side. Our team may earn a small commission from purchases made using the below links, at no additional cost to you.
- First Aid by Tao Le and Vikas Bhushan
- Moore’s Clinically-Oriented Anatomy by Keith L. Moore
- Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology
- Robbins Basic Pathology
- Junqueira’s Basic Histology
- Board Review Series (review books)
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The first textbook of immense utility to first-year medical students is First Aid by Tao Le and Vikas Bhushan. This will be your go-to study accompaniment to lectures and review resource for exams. Medical school covers extensive amounts of information in short periods of time, and First Aid provides an excellent consolidation of the material. The book is subdivided by topic (e.g. pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, and so on) and was designed to support the learning and review of material with clear chunking of information, easy-to-understand imagery, and useful memory aids. Many students take notes directly into First Aid (in the margins of relevant sections) so as to reduce the bulk of study materials, since it is easy to become overwhelmed when preparing for exams.
First Aid will be useful for both learning medical school material and reviewing it in preparation for the USMLE Step 1 exam. During the final months before you take your first board exam, you will need to efficiently review the immense amount of information covered during your pre-clinical years, and First Aid is very useful in this regard. It is difficult to overstate the importance of First Aid to medical education in 2021. If you attend medical school in the United States, you are likely to find that many of your peers use the book and may even keep their copy for residency and beyond.
By the time you graduate from medical school, you will have learned the points of origin and insertion of every muscle in the body, the precise course of every nerve and blood vessel, and the relative positioning and key features of every organ, among other details. You will spend a great deal of time learning human anatomy in lecture and anatomy lab. Outside of the classroom, consider using Moore’s Clinically Oriented Anatomy as a learning aid. Due to its readability and clarity it is a popular anatomy textbook among medical students. As the name of the textbook implies, it presents anatomy with a focus on its application to clinical medicine.
Some students pair Moore’s book with Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy, originally composed by the esteemed American medical illustrator Frank Netter. The book has numerous superb illustrations that present human anatomy clearly and with a high level of detail. Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards, which are derived from many of the illustrations, are useful for committing details of anatomy to memory. There are also a number of helpful Anki anatomy decks that you can find for free and should consider using as a supplement.
For the sake of clarity, medical schools frequently divide their curriculum based on organ system instead of discipline (e.g. cardiology instead of physiology). This means that medical physiology education is distributed longitudinally throughout the preclinical years with physiology taught in each organ module. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology is a fantastic resource for learning about the physiology of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and more. The book was first published in the mid-20th century and has become the gold-standard resource for physiology education among medical students. Over one thousand pages rich in detail, quality illustrations, and an engaging writing style make the Guyton and Hall textbook a useful accompaniment to medical school lectures.
Similarly to physiology, other science disciplines such as pathology and histology are also distributed among organ modules. Expect to revisit core concepts from these fields, and learn new ones too, with each organ module.
Robbins Basic Pathology is the go-to pathology textbook for medical students. It is a lengthy textbook with over one thousand pages but presents information in a clear and readable fashion. Robbins drafted a few pathology textbooks of varying lengths. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease in the longest and most detailed, followed by Robbins Basic Pathology, and finally the Pocket Companion to Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease which is the most concise of the three. Many students prefer Robbins Basic Pathology as it maintains a high level of detail without sacrificing readability. For pathology review, especially prior to the USMLE Step 1 exam, many students use Pathoma by Hussein Sattar.
As your pre-clinical years pass, you will be exposed to numerous pink and purple images of tissues. Though many students do not find it a simple task, you must learn to discern the intricacies and meaning of these histology images (stained with eosin and hemosiderin, among other chemicals). Junqueira’s Basic Histology, which is easy to read and equipped with numerous high quality images, can support you on this mission. You should also consider Histology: A Text and Atlas by Wojciech Pawlina and Michael Ross. Both of these textbooks get the job done and, like many textbooks, choosing between them should largely be a matter of personal preference. Consider checking out their reviews on Amazon.
The textbooks addressed above capture only a portion of the information that you will be exposed to during medical school, but are useful to own due to their utility throughout all of the organ modules and beyond. In addition to these books, there are detailed texts for more niche topics, such as biochemistry, immunology, pharmacology, and microbiology, that some students find helpful. Other articles published on our website provide an in-depth overview of the best textbooks for individuals studying these fields: best biochemistry textbooks for medical students, best immunology textbooks for medical students, best microbiology textbooks for medical students. These should help you to gain a better picture of the gold-standard books within each field.
In addition to traditional textbooks, many students prefer “rapid review” books that provide broad coverage of key concepts without a time-consuming narrative. I recommend the Board Review Series of books, which provide a clear overview of material accompanied by numerous board-style practice questions. The content is, for the most part, relevant to lectures and each book is written and edited by specialists within each field. Some students prefer the “Made Ridiculously Simple” series of review books or the Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes. Beyond textbooks, there are a few resources that you should seriously consider using: Boards and Beyond and Sketchy Medical. Your peers can tell you more about these.
Outside of the realm of the basic and clinical sciences, as a physician, you have a responsibility to cultivate your development in the social sphere. If you have not already, consider reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This classic book provides an easy-to-follow account, based on real-world anecdotes, of how to win friends and influence people (such as your patients and colleagues). This is a book that many people read repeatedly throughout life. It will prove useful to you as you learn to navigate the complexities of the social aspects of practicing medicine.
Hopefully this overview of the best textbooks for medical school will support you on your path to becoming a physician. Study hard, stay open-minded, and be prepared to use alternative resources if at any time you find that your study approach is not succeeding to your satisfaction.