Being First Doesn’t Have to Mean You’re Last: Supporting First-Generation Medical Students on Their Journey to Doctor

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As a first-generation student in medical school, you may not know what you don’t know.

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For the past three decades, more than 75% of medical students have come from families in the top two quintiles for income, while only 5% come from homes in the lowest income quintile1. Due to the relationship between household income and college degree attainment, these statistics have clear implications for our first-generation medical school students.  

As calls to diversify medicine increase, medical schools must consider what support must be implemented to ensure that every student is set up for success. Fortunately, the AAMC Group on Educational Affairs has considered these factors and taken steps to develop a toolkit for medical school students, their families, and advisors. These comprehensive toolkits cover a range of topics that are important for institutions, students, and families to consider as they navigate or support their student’s journey through the medical school environment. The student toolkit includes helpful information on topics such as academic support, professional development and career mentorship, emotional support, and financial support. 

Indeed, while first-generation students in medical school may navigate imposter syndrome or encounter social interactions that can remind them of their differing socioeconomic status and background, they also possess qualities that reaffirm their ability to succeed at practicing medicine. First, matriculating into medical school and persisting to graduation requires great resilience, which many of these students have had to develop to navigate a higher education system that often favors those from more financially resourced backgrounds. 

Additionally, first-generation medical students tend to possess a greater empathy for patients from vulnerable communities. In the AAMCNews story “Finding success as a first-generation medical student,” Mytien Nguyen, a third-year student at Yale School of Medicine, shared that this ability to connect with patients is a small but noticeable difference from some of her peers. “The most subtle but striking situation to me is when we have a patient come share their stories with us, and I would see myself or one of my family members or childhood friends reflected [in] that patient,” she said.

There are many important factors that can yield success for first-generation students, such as ensuring that they have access to mentoring, supportive campus communities that include faculty and staff, and external support — including family and friends who are informed of the challenges and needs of medical students. To that end, the advisors and families toolkit is designed to help families better understand what their student may be facing as a medical student. 

Topics in this version of the toolkit include learning environment, professional development and career mentorship, emotional support, financial support, and family connection and engagement. Additionally, the best practices and information contained in this toolkit may provide a great starting point for schools looking to implement or improve upon their current programmatic offerings or resources to support this student population.

Ultimately, it is essential that all students — no matter their family’s income level or history of attending college — who possess the desire to save lives and improve the quality of life of others via health care know that they have a place in medical school and will be critical to the ongoing practice of the profession. 

Please note: These toolkits are not intended to endorse expressed views, products, or services offered on the included documents. Availability of resources may change over time. You can suggest toolkit edits or updates by contacting

  1. AAMC Analysis in Brief

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