What To Buy Before Starting Medical School (5 Essentials) [2021]

There’s a lot of garbage that gets recommended by “influencers” recommending what they think you should buy before starting med school. What’s worse is that they imagine you have an unlimited budget. Not helpful!

My own opinion, after four years in med school, is that you don’t need much.

Basically my list of what to buy before med school boils down to five things:

  1. Reliable Tablet or Laptop
  2. Durable Carry Bag/Rucksack
  3. Stethoscope
  4. Scrubs
  5. Noise Cancelling Headphones

Everything else I’ve seen mentioned seems unnecessary. Studying medicine isn’t that far from other college majors. And you certainly don’t want to waste your money on things you don’t really need.

Studying medicine is already expensive enough!

So if you need more clarity on the things I think you need, and my reasons as to why they’re important, read on…

Reliable Tablet Or Laptop

It might seem rather obvious, but I can’t emphasize enough how important a reliable tablet or laptop is in med school.

This will be your main work horse. And your portal to all the information you need to pass your exams and achieve your goals.

A crappy one, especially if it breaks down or runs out of space, can cost you big time. Possibly raising your chances of failing an exam.

For that reason, it’s critical the tech you choose meets the following:

  • Plenty of hard disk space to store all your lecture videos, electronic books and everything else
  • A quality (and high pixel dimension) screen that won’t strain your eyes after long hours of study
  • Comfortable to use and portable enough to carry around (so you can mix up your workspaces)
  • A pencil or stylus – useful if you plan on taking hand written notes

So important is this item, that I’d suggest you budget for it first before thinking about anything else.

Also note that some med schools, particularly those in the U.S., will give their students laptops when they start. Which can be useful as it’s already factored into expenses.

But if you’re stuck deciding between a laptop or tablet, maybe I can help.

I’ve discusses what I personally think is the best option in this post: Laptop Or iPad for Medical School (Don’t Make This Mistake). The conclusion there is that a laptop, although more expensive, is much more versatile.

As for some good choices, here are a few I think will definitely do the job:

Durable Carry Bag/Rucksack

Eventually, even if you do spend the pre-clinical years mainly at home studying and avoiding lectures, you’ll find yourself on the move as a med student.

Taking care of all your things as you move from home, to hospital and back again, is super important. You don’t want to have to shell out again to replace dropped and damaged gear.

Comfort and not breaking your back carrying around your stuff is equally vital.

So, depending on where you study (climate, temperate etc.) and how you get to school or hospital, you’ll want to think about the following things:

  • Weight and durability: you don’t want your bag to break and then damage the contents
  • Capacity: you’ll probably need a change of clothes, equipment, tablet etc.
  • Fashion/style: who says you can’t be stylish and still be a doctor?

Also think about independent sleeves or covers for your tech gear for an extra layer of protection. The small investment can save a lot on repairs or replacements.


Stethoscopes are integral to clinical medicine and you’re going to need one once you’re through to your rotations.

You’re going to want a nice one for two reasons:

  • You’ll be using it a lot
  • You’ll be putting one end in your ears and the other on a patient’s body

Littman makes the best stethoscopes but there’s no need to buy the expensive cardiology ones. Your best bet is to get the classic one or other entry level types.

As you’ll end up taking this with you after you graduate too it’s a good idea to get it engraved. Not only does this help prevent it from theft or being taken mistakenly, but it’s also a cool way to customize your look too.

Related: 24 Stethoscope Engraving Ideas (Funny, Ironic, Inspiring and More!)


At some point in your medical school career you’re going to need to get a pair of scrubs (or two).

Where else are all those nasty fluids going to go? Certainly not your best shirt or blouse!

Buying scrubs rests on your med school or training hospital’s dress code. Some have designated colors for students, nurses, doctors etc. So you’re going to want to make sure you’re buying colors in-line with those.

Other students have more free reign when it comes to scrub styles and colors.

And yes, it’s still possible to buy a good used pair of scrubs if they’re of good enough quality in the first place!

Noise Cancelling Headphones

The last thing on this list is a solid pair of noise cancelling headphones.

These, coupled with effective studying techniques (the types I share on this site), can prove a godsend to helping you get the most out of your time.

Take them with you to do work in the library or coffee shop and you’ll find 10X gains in your focus.

Sometimes you just have to block out the world to get those flashcards done…

This list aside, there are also a few things I feel you might need in your apartment or dorm too. Especially if you plan on doing most of your study there.

Desks and chairs can be hugely important. But there are other things too.

I cover them in this article…

Related: 7 Med School Apartment Essentials: Supercharge Your Space

Additional Questions On What To Buy Before Starting Med School

In this section I’ll try to answer some of the more common questions people ask when it comes to working out what to spend money on before med school.

I’ve tried to keep in mind the sort of things I wanted to ask before heading on my journey!

What You DON’T Need For Med School

I understand that a lot of posts like this can be designed to be salesy or push you into buying certain products. That’s not my intention with this site. I just want to present what I personally think is worth investing in for med school (if you have the money). And show you potential options.

So it’s important to state one thing.

Aside from scrubs and hospital-regulatory gear, you don’t really need to buy anything for med school.

Surviving it can be done with the bare essentials. Just as thousands of people have done so for years, graduating with much less.

So here are a list of things that a lot of blogs and YouTubers will say you will need that I disagree with…

  • Physical text books: get electronic versions. Lighter in weight and more portable.
  • Reflex/tendon hammers: you can usually get yours hands on one easily enough in clinic.
  • Blood pressure kit: the same goes for this.
  • Clinical shoes: some schools/hospitals will let you get away with sneakers or whatever existing footwear you have. You’ll want to check their dress code first of course.

Related: Best Shoes For Clinical Rotations (No More Discomfort)

I’ve also even known people to make it all the way through school without a stethoscope (by just borrowing from others). But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Think of the cerumen!

Where To Buy Medical School Gear

Amazon has lots of options in all different price ranges and are a safe bet on quality and delivery.

But another thing worth mentioning is social media. Most schools (mine included) usually have dedicated Facebook pages dedicated to med students buying and selling their gear. You can often get some bargains here from new graduates leaving town to train elsewhere.

Tap into your school’s community to figure out where these opportunities are.

How To Save Money On Medical School Equipment

The best ways to save money on medical equipment are as follows:

  • Remind yourself you don’t need “the best” or “most expensive” items: the difference in functionality often isn’t worth it
  • Buy used if possible (use the tip above – leverage social media channels)
  • Rent a fully furnished apartment or dorm that takes care of some of the essentials

Related: How Do Medical Students Pay For Living Expenses (Crucial Money Saving Tips)

The first tip is probably the most important. Don’t fall onto the hegemonic treadmill after watching influencers and the like “flex” all their gear.

You can make it through med school frugally if you try.

What Are Some Good Gifts To Get Someone Starting Med School?

Besides from things on the list above, here are some other ideas:

Obviously you don’t need to break the bank with any of these. But they can prove useful!

Final Thoughts On What To Buy Before Starting Med School

Figuring out how best to get started for med school will definitely lead to more questions than answers.

Equipment and gear is only one side of it. What about all the mental prep and academic side of things?

That takes equal time and consideration too. To help, I’ve put together a 6,000-word guide of my own that aims to answer some of those concerns.

You can check it out here; How To Succeed In Medical School: 10 Top Tips For Anxious First Years.

Good luck!

Image Credit: @element5digital at Unsplash