Learning all the material for medical school is a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. There’s a raging torrent of information, and somehow you need to get it all into your head ... while dissecting cadavers, mastering organic chemistry, making it to the lab on time in a reasonable mental state, and then somehow finding time to do the laundry, put food in your mouth, and maintain basic hygiene standards.
It’s tough—and it should be. In med school, you’re learning how to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness in high-stakes situations. Once you’re in practice, the stakes are sometimes life or death.
Even if you were one of those people who could cram to pass exams in high school, trying to do that for medical school won’t even touch sides. To stay afloat, you need to study daily, and one of the best and most efficient ways to do this is to take advantage of all that “in-between” time in your day.
Just think about it: if you used the time waiting for the bus (10 minutes), commuting (40 minutes), between lectures (15 minutes), and waiting for your partner to get ready (84 years), you’d find that by the end of the day, you’ve got a good chunk of your studying done.
What’s the best way to engage in quality studying on the move? Mobile apps.
That’s why we’ve curated a list of the top apps for med students. Being apps, they’re infinitely easier to carry around than a stack of textbooks. And the best ones (like Brainscape's adaptive flashcard app) will also hone your ability to absorb information, making your studying more streamlined and efficient.
Let’s take a closer look at our selection of the top apps for medical students.
The best apps for studying for medical school
The apps below not only have extensive medical school content, they also help you study up to twice as efficiently.
App 1: Brainscape
Brainscape is a flashcard-based web and mobile app for serious learners who need to onboard large amounts of information and do it fast.
Its major differentiators from other flashcard apps are (i) its superior spaced repetition algorithm (so you revisit new information at just the right interval for optimal learning), (ii) its detailed learning analytics, (iii) its tools to help you estimate how much study time you have left for a particular goal, (iv) its flexible content formats (much more than just 'vocab words'), and (v) its broad range of quality flashcard content.
You can study Brainscape's "certified" flashcards for USMLE prep, MCAT prep and NCLEX prep, and you can also study medical & nursing flashcards created by other students and educators, for hundreds of popular subject areas. Being a flashcard app, you can also make your own online flashcards on Brainscape's website, and sync them to the Brainscape mobile app.
Brainscape is free for most features, and complete content access can be unlocked for a modest subscription fee that is a fraction of most other medical content repositories.
App 2: Anki
Anki is a popular adaptive flashcard app used by many med students. While its design might not be quite as slick as Brainscape and Quizlet, its software is "open source", meaning it is developed by the public community and not controlled by an evil corporation. It is also free to use online at the time of this writing (though its mobile app costs $25).
Because Anki does not have official partnerships with publishers or content experts, you might not know if you can "trust" the flashcards you find in its marketplace. Just make sure you know the creator of the flashcards well so you can gauge if they are accurate, up-to-date, or comprehensive for the goal you are studying for. It may take some trial-and-error to find the flashcards that are right for you.
App 3: Quizlet
Quizlet is also a very popular flashcard app with pre-created card decks on topics like medical terminology, conditions, and abbreviations. There’s a huge range of user-created flashcards in Quizlet's marketplace, and you can also create your own.
Most of the content in Quizlet is user-generated and in the form of independent "study sets", rather than a complete progressive curriculum (like you might find in, say, Brainscape). Because of this, it might take a significant amount of research to compile the best and most accurate user-generated study sets for the goal you are shooting for, and there might be a lot of overlap between the different users' content that you combine together.
But you will at least have fun with it. Because Quizlet content is confined to just vocabulary words, where the data input is in the form of "term" and "definition" (or diagram parts to be labeled), this allows Quizlet to turn content into score-able games like multiple-choice, matching, and fill-in-the-blank. The downside of this limitation is that Quizlet does not easily support broader types of content like longer text-based questions answers.
Bottom line: If you are looking to make your medical vocab studying more fun, Quizlet may be the app for you. If you are looking for a more effective study app that will help you learn a broader type of medical content in less time, go with Brainscape.
The best medical apps for learning and practicing medicine
The apps below are created both for medical students and qualified physicians. They’re great as references, networks, and information storehouses. However, they may not be as beneficial a tool as Brainscape for efficiently absorbing the huge amount of information required to pass your USMLE, MCAT, or NCLEX.
App 4: MDCalc Medical Calculator
Being a doctor requires you to know a boatload of formulas, calculations, and equations, which is where MDCalc can make life a whole lot easier. The app contains 500+ clinical decision tools including:
- Risk scores
- Dosing calculators
- And more ...
MDCalc helps you juggle the many different medical formulas you’ll need to make good decisions and recommendations for patient care. Formulas like: the pregnancy wheel, dermatome map, eye chart, and growth velocity. The clinical decision tools are designed to support 35+ medical specialties.
More importantly for study purposes, MDCalc not only gives you the formulas and calculators, the app also contains a summary of why each one important and how/why it’s used, as well as links to reference articles and studies to help support your understanding and decision making.
App 5: Prognosis
As a doctor, you’re often the key decision-maker in the room. And with so much at stake, it’s incredibly important to leverage every diagnostic tool at your disposal so that you can make good clinical decisions.
Prognosis is an app that’s designed to help you become a world-class diagnostician. It contains a catalog of cases, created by 200 physicians across 33 specialties. On the app, you get to read a case, make your diagnosis, and then check it against the peer-reviewed answer. New cases are released every week, based on real-world clinical experiences.
The case information provided includes diagnostic reasoning, test results, and key learning points. Prognosis is a particularly useful app for getting to grips with different disease groups and their treatment.
App 6: DailyRounds
There are over 20,000 pharmaceuticals approved by the FDA for prescriptions. It’s a lot for both doctors and med students to get a handle on. This app has an extensive drug database, where 10K+ brands are represented, as well as 2,000+ molecules.
Like Prognosis, DailyRounds contains peer-reviewed clinical cases from doctors around the world. The cases are presented in a way to help you prepare for examinations like the USMLE, AIPGMEE, and NEET PG. A good proportion of these cases are common clinical scenarios, but the app also branches out into rarer conditions and diseases.
All the major specialties are covered: cardiology, nephrology, pathology, anesthesiology, radiology, pediatrics, and surgery.
App 7: Human Anatomy Atlas
The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone ... or is it? Anatomy is a complex and beautiful subject, and the Human Anatomy Atlas offers thousands of models to help you understand how the human body works.
This app is used by both medical students and professionals and includes textbook-level terminology, as well as dissection models, microanatomy, and animations. It’s a great study reference, and a lot lighter to haul around with you than an anatomy textbook.
In short: the Human Anatomy Atlas is a great substitute for Game of Thrones if you’re looking to get into the grist and gristle of what lies beneath the human skin!
App 8: Epocrates
A key requirement for passing medical school and practicing safe medicine is understanding drug interactions. There are literally thousands of drugs on the market, so this is not easy ... but that’s where Epocrates comes in.
The free version of Epocrates centers on pharmacology and features a powerful drug interaction checker. You can check for harmful interactions between up to 30 brands, generic, OTC, or alternative drugs at a time.
There’s a mystery pill identifier, with pills organized by shape, color, and imprint code. Then there’s 600+ dosing calculators, medical equations, and other useful tools.
The professional version of Epocrates includes disease information, infectious disease treatment, laboratory panels, and support for alternative medicines.
All in all, this app is a great reference for pharmacology and good prescription practice.
App 9: Medscape
This is one of the most popular medical apps around. Medscape features a tailored news feed, with the latest medical news and expert commentary in various specialties. There’s information on the hot-off-the-press FDA approvals, conference updates, new clinical trial data, and more.
The “consult” section has a huge network of physicians and med students where you can read new case histories and keep up with current medical thought.
Medscape also contains 400+ medical calculators, a drug interaction checker, pill identifier, and step-by-step procedural videos.
The best app for productivity and time management
Being in medical school means having an enormous number of things to do, every day, for several years. So it’s hardly surprising that so many students get overwhelmed and exhausted by the workload. The productivity and time management app below will help you manage your task list in a way that makes it feel doable!
App 10: Todoist
Todoist has been called “the best to-do list right now.” It’s used by 25 million people to organize, plan, and collaborate their daily task list. You can use this app to keep your achievements top-of-mind with a widget that shows your current progress toward daily and weekly goals.
You can quickly create reminders for repetitive tasks, and order your list in terms of importance. Todoist is particularly good at breaking large amorphous tasks into small, bite-sized pieces, which is the key to building momentum and winning each day.
The best apps for improving mindset
High achievement is a mental game, as well as a physical one. Unless you learn how to unwind, let go, and relax, you’ll never be able to summon peak performance from yourself at will. The apps below will help you with the flipside of hard work: making sure you’re able to unplug your brain and get restorative rest.
App 11: Headspace
Get happy. Be less stressed. Sleep soundly. Founded by a former Buddhist monk with a degree in circus arts, Headspace is a vast store of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.
There are libraries of guided visualizations for:
- Waking up
- Working out
Many world-class athletes, scholars, and CEOs use meditation and mindfulness skills to perform at their highest level and enjoy the process.
App 12: Calm
Calm is the hugely popular app for sleep, meditation, and relaxation. Sleep is essential (NNL) for clear-headed thought, memory retention, and cognition, especially during times of high stress and study.
This app contains guided meditations, sleep stories read by varied celebrities, breathing programs, stretching exercises, and relaxation soundscapes.
App 13: Forest
We all know phones are addictive, distracting, and a great way to derail your study time. But what to do about it? The Forest app is a similarly addictive (but in a good way) method to help you beat phone addiction and overcome distraction.
The app rewards you for leaving your phone alone, allowing you to stay focused on more important (and mentally taxing) tasks. Like studying organic chemistry.
Forest also tracks your focused moments, building up a reservoir of good habits and willpower that you can use to beat procrastination and get the hard studying for medical school done.
Final thoughts on the best medical school apps
There you have it: 13 medical and self-help apps that will help you survive, or even thrive throughout your years at medical school and as a practicing physician. The world needs good doctors, and to get there, you’re going to need to pass all your med school exams. Your end goal is going to take a good deal of work, but it’s worth it in the end.
Good luck, study hard, and remember: the smarter you study, the more successful you’ll be!