blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: Back to (Med) School Shopping

August 21, 2015

Back to (Med) School Shopping

As back to school season approaches (or maybe we're already in it? I've lost track now that I'm out of it), I always get a little nostalgic about back to school shopping. It was always my favorite time of the year - the inner organizer-junkie inside of me loved buying notebooks and pens and markers and planners, and the clothes was always fun too! For those of you who are heading into medical school (congratulations!!) I've drawn up a little list of necessities (and some not-so-necessities) for starting the year off right! These certainly can work for any school or work environment as well, not just medicine!

For starters - what to wear. I like to keep it simple, so decided to show you how to easily mix and match the same top for class, clinic, or the wards. Easy t-shirts like this one can be dressed up with a skirt or down with jeans and really work for any occasion! I will of course make the disclaimer that you should always make sure that you know the dress code in your school and hospital. For us at HMS you could wear anything you wanted to class, so a casual pair of distressed jeans like these were just fine, but at some schools this may not pass. The same goes for the hospital, at most of the hospitals I've worked at wearing a t-shirt with scrub bottoms is completely acceptable (and the norm on the medicine floor), especially with your white coat thrown on top. In the ORs this is a big no-no though (only scrub top and scrub bottom allowed), and in some places if you're not on long call or overnight scrubs are not allowed at all (and you're expected to dress more like you would for clinic). I hope this makes sense! 

I picked out some fun flats for class and clinic (black and tan are pretty much the only two colors you need), and for the hospital I've converted to the Dansko tribe. Especially now that I'm spending even more time on my feet these really do make a huge difference (as do compression socks)! 

One of the most important things you'll buy this year? Your school bag. I figured out well before Liv (back in college actually) that diaper bags were the best bag for school. They could fit a ton, had loads of pockets, and most have double shoulder straps (all necessities for my bag). This one is perfect and really similar to the one I still use in the hospital now - it's polyester so now and then I can wipe it clean with a disinfecting wipe and not worry about damaging it, has pockets everywhere, and even a cross body strap. You can toss the changing pad if you want, but I always use it as a cheap laptop sleeve/protector! 

A watch isn't a necessity in the age of the all-mighty cell phone, but there will be many times when checking your phone just isn't appropriate, even if it is just for the time. This one is pretty much my all time favorite. 

And finally the stethoscope. I went a little extra for my stethoscope and got a gold one, but I love it and I can actually pick up murmurs with it. I made sure to get one of the ones that was best-reviewed. Check with your med school class before buying as lots of classes will do a group purchase to get a group discount. Sometimes this discount can be pretty significant, but other times you can find better deals online (like this one on Amazon) - just do the comparison for yourself to be sure! Some schools will tell you you have to buy an otoscope and ophthalmoscope and blood pressure cuff, etc. etc. You don't. I repeat, you do not. You can if you want to, but most clinics and hospital rooms will have these readily available in patient rooms. No need to spend the hundreds of dollars for them. (And again, like most of the advice I give, obviously check with your own institution. Some schools are more strict than others and may actually require you to purchase them. At ours it was "highly recommended" and I fell for the trap)!

And for the fun part of shopping (seriously I could spend all day in the stationary section) - the stuff that's going to keep you organized! For starters, a good planner. I got lucky a couple of weeks ago at Target and found a Day Designer that is perfect (and much cheaper - and slimmer - than the original Day Designer)! Unfortunately it's not available online anymore, but check in store and maybe you'll get lucky! Design wise, this Kate Spade planner comes really close! I've professed my love for these Russell and Hazel mini-binders before, they also make awesome planners if you buy the calendar pages, or just note keepers (made more beautiful by their colorful mini-tabs)! I also love their to-do list sticky notes. Extras like colorful pens for color-coded notes and washi tape for labeling things on your calendar or in your notes make studying fun (and can also lead to distraction, hahaha, so balance it ladies)! I threw in the push pins just for fun. Probably the biggest investment you might make is a laptop. Check with your school's financial aid office, many offer a loan specifically for buying a new computer that is separate from any of your other loans. N and I both used this to buy our laptops (I have a MacBook Air that was perfect to bring back and forth to class and still perfect now)! 

More than what you buy at the start of medical school is what you remember. And if you remember anything, remember this - the start of medical school is fun and terrifying and feels impossible all at the same time, but you deserve to be exactly where you are. It's hard not to compare yourself to all of your likely amazing classmates, but know that you are good enough. The admissions committee didn't screw up in letting you in and they will not be sending you a letter in a month saying they made a mistake. You worked your butt off to get to where you are now. There's a lot more hard work to come, but you can (and you will) do it.


  1. Here in Australia med students wear smart/casual clothes, but I wish we wore scrubs/white coat so it'd take the stress out of picking an outfit! Sigh, I bought myself the cheapest steth in first year and I really should've splurged. I suffer from perpetual stethoscope envy. I have the Daniel Wellington watch and it's beautiful, I just wish it had a second hand!

    I'm a new reader and I love your blog btw. And your last paragraph - 5 years in, I'm still expecting someone to tell me that they've made a mistake haha.

  2. What program do you use for your collages? I love them!

  3. I love your tips on class/clinic/wards wardrobe! The diaper bag is a great idea, my mom actually has that brand (one of the white and blue striped ones) and loves it! I use an old yoga bag that is black to take things to and from clinic. Its great and youre right about the large size when your toting a days worth of food and snacks! Great post!

  4. I'm a longtime reader and u love your blog I'm a current third year med student and started my own blog. I was inspired to give my own advices from you my own experiences in med school and life in general. Hope people enjoy it xoxo

  5. I always love back to school shopping -- sometimes a little too much. LOL!

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  11. This is awesome! Can't wait to shop for starting school in August.

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  13. You have two pockets in the pants, two pockets on the bottom of the shirt (sounds kind of weird, or maybe not since this is my first pair after surgical scrubs).

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