Author: Holly M

4th Year Medical Student

Why Reflection Is Important For Your Medical Journey

What textbooks and resources should I get for studying medicine at university?

It can be difficult to know what textbooks and resources you need to get before starting medical school. Especially if your university doesn’t supply you with a reading list, or perhaps they supply you with one that is just too long.

You feel as if you’re trying to balance having enough resources and being well prepared for your course, along with not wanting to waste money on textbooks you’ll never use.

I know I have fallen into the trap of buying textbooks I have never really used. Hopefully, this article will help you to decide what textbooks and resources will be best for you.

Physical textbooks or digital copies

There is always a big debate between whether it is best to buy physical or digital copies of resources. I will discuss all the pros and cons of these below, which will hopefully help inform your decision.

As with all articles, it’s a really good idea to keep a pen and paper handy whilst reading this. You can make notes of anything you find particularly useful or interesting.

Physical textbooks

There are some really good benefits to getting physical textbooks, which I will outline below. If you know that physical textbooks suit you and your way of learning (e.g. you have used them throughout your A-levels), then don’t be afraid to stick to what you know!

Benefits of physical textbooks

  • You can buy physical textbooks second hand, this can mean they’re much cheaper than anything you could buy digitally. If you’re having to buy lots of textbooks, this can make a real difference.
  • You can sell physical textbooks on, if you find after pre-clinical years you’re not using certain textbooks, this can be a way of making some extra money.
  • You can highlight, add notes and post-it notes to parts and flick backwards and forwards, as well as having several textbooks open at once and you can also refer to more than one textbook at once. You can do some of these with electronic textbooks, but I just don’t find these systems as easy to use.

Negatives of physical textbooks

  • They’re really heavy! If you do a lot of travelling, or even if you just walk around / to uni a lot, then you won’t want to be carrying all these textbooks around with you. It might mean you have to make difficult choices about which textbooks you need and don’t need.
  • Similarly to this, medical textbooks are normally pretty big, this means they take up a lot of space. If you know you won’t have much room or that you’ll have to put your possessions into storage over university summer breaks, physical textbooks might not be right for you.
  • They’re not necessarily the most up to date. Especially if you are buying them second hand, so some of the information is less reliable, or there might be new information and research missing. 

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Electronic textbooks

Benefits of electronic textbooks

  • What is really handy is that some universities pay for students to have access to textbooks online. You should check out if this is the case for your university, as it means you can access all the information you need, completely free.
  • Electronic textbooks don’t take up any physical space. This means you can get as many as you like, without ever having to worry about them being too heavy or taking up space.
  • Most electronic book apps or equivalents nowadays have features that allow their users to highlight words, add sticky notes and bookmark pages. 

Negatives of electronic textbooks

  • One of the problems with electronic textbooks accessed via your university is that you can’t always make your own personal notes. This can mean you can’t find information as quickly next time, or that you can’t revise as you usually would want to.
  • Accessing online electronic textbooks can also require an internet connection. If you do lots of travelling on flights, or if you like revising in parks, then electronic textbooks might not be as suited to you.
  • Similarly, access to electronic textbooks relies on a device with battery life. If you run out of battery charge, you won’t be able to work and revise as you might have planned, which can be really frustrating.

Other resources

Textbooks aren’t the only learning resource you should consider when thinking about buying things for medical school.


I personally find flashcards to be handy. You can buy ready-made, reputable flashcards for topics such as anatomy, but you can also make your own. Just buy blank flashcards to write on or even pieces of paper that you cut into flashcards.

You can also access free online flashcard making websites. Not only they allow you to make your own flashcards, but sometimes they have sets of flashcards made by other users.


YouTube also has lots of channels dedicated to making videos on everything from pharmacology to pathophysiology to anatomy for medical students. It is often worth checking these out, especially if you’re only wanting a quick overview of a topic, a refresher, or if you’re finding all the information in your textbook a bit overwhelming!

Pro tip: Check out our YouTube channel to see more tips and tricks for aspiring medical students like yourself!

Final thoughts

This has just been a quick overview to help you think about what kind of learning resources you might want to take with you / use during your medical degree.

My overall advice is to not make any rushed purchases. Stick to the type of resources that work for you but don’t be afraid to try out new resources too!

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