How to Succeed in Medical School as a First-Generation Student

Medical School
August 31, 2020

First-generation students in the United States are defined as students who are the first in their families to attend college/graduate program and/or are the first in their families to be born in the United States. According to Geoffrey Young, PhD, AAMC senior director of student affairs and programs at Stanford School of Medicine, first-generation medical students are “in many ways a minority within medical school.”[1] 

If you identify as a first-generation student, chances are that you have already dealt with numerous hurdles and unique challenges that your continuing-generation peers may not have experienced thus far in your academic journeys. Preparing for the MCAT, taking pre-medical classes, and soliciting letters of recommendations, amongst other experiences might have evoked feelings of intense anxiety and confusion during your undergraduate years. With very few people to help you on your med school journey, you may have had to rely on only yourself and a few trusted friends to navigate the med school application process. Thus, as a first-generation medical student, it is crucial to clearly identify resources and opportunities early-on to secure success going forward in your medical career. Below, I have outlined several useful tips to help you navigate the uncharted waters of medical school as a first-generation student.   

  1. Participate in the AMCAS Program’s First Generation College Student Indicator 

The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) established the First Generation College Student Indicator [2] in 2018 to help medical institutions identify first-gen students early on and assist them with the transition to medical school. In your AMCAS application, be sure to answer the designated questions about your parents’ educational background. This will help institutions screen for applicants whose parents have not earned an associate’s degree or higher in the United States, thereby providing a more accurate means of identifying first-generation college students like yourself at their institution. 

  1. Join your medical school’s first generation mentorship program (or start one of your own!)

Stanford University School of Medicine offers a first generation mentorship program that is designed to provide essential support and resources in the form of academic coaching, tutoring services, professional development, and research opportunities for first-gen students. [3] The program, like many others across the country, provides a much-needed community that connects first-generation mentors to students, thereby enabling them to receive mentorship and advice as they navigate medical school. If your institution does not have a first-gen mentorship program, consider creating one of your own, or joining a First Generation/Low Income affinity group, such as this one [4] at Yale School of Medicine. These programs and affinity groups are incredibly important for networking and connecting with potential mentors who have been in your shoes. 

  1. Proactively build your financial literacy

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a study indicating that a larger proportion of first-generation students come from lower-income households compared to their continuing-generation counterparts. [5] 27% of first-gen students came from households earning less than $20,000 compared to 6% of continuing-generation students. The study also found that first-generation students are more likely to cite financial barriers to pursuing graduate studies than continuing-generation students (54% versus 45%). Thus, it is essential to optimize your financial literacy so that you can budget, save, and borrow money in order to fund your education. Direct any financial aid related questions to your institution’s financial aid office and specifically inquire about financial aid and/or scholarship opportunities available for first-generation students. Speak with peer mentors and your Deans about maintaining a healthy financial life while at your medical school. Proactively managing your financial resources will significantly reduce your stress levels and will give you more time to concentrate on your academics. It will also allow you to budget for Step 1 and Step 2 CK/CS exam preparation and residency interviews further down the road.   

  1. Check out these other online resources  for first-generation students

  • First Gen Medicine is a website that offers free advice for current first-generation medical school applicants and medical students. It provides a pretty comprehensive advice column pertaining to various issues you will encounter as a first-gen med student. Check out their website here: http://www.firstgenmedicine.com/advice-column/
  • The National First Generation and Low-Income in Medicine Association hosted a virtual webinar from June 9-11, 2020 on applying to medical school and residency. They also offer the FGLIMed Advancement Scholarship to students either applying for medical school or residency for the 2020-2021 academic year. The link to the webinar is here: https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/25051/. The list of speakers is quite handy for those who are interested in reaching out to them and hearing about ways to optimize their time in med school. The link to the scholarship is here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeKIM6IFRKHfRaiM8MtI1sgtoYgcrV3lKQhqJPhN-eDpx_FfA/viewform


  1. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/finding-success-first-generation-medical-student
  2. https://aamc-orange.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/7d/4c/7d4c5b3c-be52-4c93-b382-8dcc9ea7ffd3/2018_amcas_new_questions-_fact_sheet.pdf
  3. http://med.stanford.edu/md/student-affairs/1stgenmentorship.html#:~:text=The%201st%20Generation%20Mentorship%20Program%20is%20a%20community%20of%20Stanford,born%20in%20the%20United%20States.
  4. https://fgli.yalecollege.yale.edu/
  5. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018009.pdf

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