It’s that time of year again: graduations are taking place and students with freshly printed diplomas are either getting ready to enter the job market or finalizing their acceptance offers of grad and professional schools. If you fall into the latter category, then you should expect several letters from the school that you’ve deposited your enrollment fee, if you haven’t started receiving them already. These forms range from a “required” textbook list to snuggies sold by the Surgery club that have your school logo embroidered all over. You thought the tuition was expensive, what about all these extra costs?!?

Before you start to check off the list of items that you think you need, here’s a bit of advice to help you navigate these numerous lists. Let’s start with the textbooks: chances are, you won’t have time to crack open a book; you’ll be too busy focusing on your class notes and supplemental power points which are the real exam material. Plus, medical textbooks cost a pretty penny, the range being $200-$300 per book, sometimes more. However, if you are a book person and really need to see words to understand the material, then you can find the PDF version of these books for free online. A great resource are the Google hangout groups, specifically the medical students ones. I joined one several months ago and was able to snag a copy of a physiology book that I’m currently using to study for boards. Hate online books? Then don’t be afraid of buying an older edition of a book. Anatomy hasn’t changed in the last three hundred years.

Be aware of the club trap! Every summer, all the clubs at a university have a monopoly of items that they have the authority to sell to incoming first years. They market the items in a way so that you are manipulated into thinking that you need them. No, you don’t need a pack of monofilaments until clinic in third year, and you don’t ever need the dissection kit for anatomy lab, you’ll find lockers full of them during your first lab session and can always share with your partner in the worst case scenario. What you should buy if offered is a “survival guide” that contains old exams and quizzes. No, this isn’t a form of cheating as professors rarely repeat questions but its a good way to gauge your understanding of the material and to see what type of questions are asked. Another good investment is any bone models that are up for sale. At the podiatry school every student is required to purchase a foot model to use in the lower extremity anatomy course held in the spring. You can either buy it over the summer and admire it until January, or wait until the second semester to purchase it. Either way, its a necessity but is something that you will actually use and refer to over the years. Plus its a nice addition to your future office.

Last but certainly not least are scrubs and white coats. You really do not need five pairs of scrubs for anatomy lab. Like it or not, you’re going to stink of formaldehyde even if you send them to the fancy French dry cleaners. Best approach is to buy 2 pairs, wear one for a week while the others are in the laundry. You are planning to throw them out (or burn them, depending on how well you do in anatomy) at the end of the course, and you will not be wearing those in clinic. Also, don’t jump the gun and buy the scrubs sold to you by the school. Chances are you’ll find them at a much cheaper price in one of the nursing stores or online. I’ve seen full scrub shirts and pants for $3. So unless your school is offering you a great discount, make sure to shop around. As for white coats, yes you are excited to have the one with your name embroidered and student doctor or medical student listed underneath, but you do not need to buy two or three. A single coat will suffice the few visit that you get to the clinic in first year. Honestly, you won’t need another coat until 3rd year, when you’ll be in clinic all morning and need to have a spare in case the other gets dirty. Just make sure that the one you order is your correct size, not too small that you wont be able to fit your notes and instruments in it later in your clinical years or too big that you need alterations.

It’s a bit overwhelming to see all those packets of papers and numerous emails in your inbox, so take a deep breath and relax. The main thing is to avoid making unneccessary purchases that you’ll regret later on. Med school is expensive, and you’ll need every dollar for other necessary expenses, especially if you are commuting or planning to move away for school. I hope you find these tidbits useful, and welcome to medical school!