A first year's guide for buying textbooks

The seemingly endless list of textbooks available for medical students is enough to make many reconsider their degree, but before you go rushing off to buy every single textbook, it is worth figuring out which textbooks are the most valuable.

Remember, an extensive collection of textbooks may make you feel smarter, but they most likely will not be helpful to you in your first year of medical school.

Instead, stick to the basics — a good anatomy textbook will be a loyal companion throughout your medical career.

Choose wisely — you will be using these textbooks for a while and most do not come cheap. Your university will give you a textbook list.


Buying textbooks

Try the following options to save money:

  • The campus bookstore — you will be able to order all of your books here brand-new. Some universities will also sell second-hand textbooks.
  • Other students — many students will want to sell their old textbooks. Connect with them to see what they have to sell.
  • Major online stores — websites, such as Book Depository or Amazon, can offer new or second-hand textbooks cheaper than the campus bookstore.
  • Online second-hand sites — websites such as studentvip.com.au offer cheap second-hand textbooks; also visit Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree.
  • Renting — websites such as jekkle.com.au allow you to rent a textbook.
  • The campus library — borrow a textbook, particularly if you will only need it once or twice.


In the meantime, here are my recommendations.


  • Gray’s Anatomy for Students (2nd ed) — a comprehensive and detailed textbook that has simple, written descriptions and lots of diagrams. It also provides clinical cases to demonstrate the relevance of anatomy in future practice
  • Clinical Anatomy by Systems (Snell) — provides less depth but more clinical cases which may prove to be more interesting and relevant for some students
  • Netter’s Atlas of Anatomy (Illustrated) or McMinn’s Atlas of Anatomy/Rohen’s Colour Atlas (Cadaveric) — an atlas comes in handy if you need help visualising anatomical locations and relations

Clinical Skills

  • Clinical Examination (Talley & O’Connor) — a great investment in the long run and shows numerous examination procedures and signs and symptoms as well as underlying pathology. Perfect for OSCEs
  • Clinical Examination (Epstein) — less comprehensive, but more straight forward; suitable for first year students


  • Wheater’s Functional Histology — many histology images and provides explanations of the related anatomy, endocrinology, cellular biology, and some pathology. It will come in handy in helping cement concepts of histology
  • Human Histology — another option

Immunology and Microbiology

  • Mim’s Medical Microbiology — all your microbiology needs as well as some basic immunology
  • Immunology for Medical Students — another option


  • Neuroanatomy (Crossman) — holds a reputation of being complex; a good textbook that will help long term
  • Essentials of the Human Brain (Nolte) — another option


  • Robbins Basic Pathology — connects the most basic science with clinical medicine and is sufficient for the first few years of medical school
  • Robbins and Contran Pathological Basis of Disease — significantly thicker and wordier; caters to the budding pathologists


  • Rang and Dale’s Pharmacology — contains easy to understand pharmacological concepts and additional information about the pathophysiology of drugs


  • Guyton and Hall — a massive textbook that has incredible detail and logically sequenced chapters which come useful during revision
  • Berne and Levy — also useful for revision

By Daniel Liu, University of New South Wales GPSN Chair.

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