Tag Archive: apps

The Best Free Software For Students

If you are anything like me, you will do anything to avoid paying thousands of dollars for the next Adobe product.  After ten years of higher education (and at least 4 to go!) I have tested hundreds of software packages; in this post I will list the best free and open source programs I have found.  Learn to love open source software…and you will soon learn how to spend those thousands of dollars you saved!  My software list will certainly not be a comprehensive list of all the great open source programs. For a complete list of free software programs I have three recommendations.

  • The best resource is sourceforge.net which is a nearly complete collection of all reputable free software.
  • FileHippo.com is a free website that lists hundreds of free software packages by category
  • schoolforge.net is a compilation of hundreds of free and open source software programs that is easily searchable.



Google Chrome is a no-nonsense, super fast web browser.  Here is just one reference proving Chrome's speed superiority (from cnet.com). For mac users, Safari is a distant second.  While I used to enjoy Firefox, it takes nearly twice as long to load web pages than Chrome.  We all know how terrible Internet Explorer is.



OpenOffice is a well known counterpart to Microsoft Office.  The free software includes a fully capable word processor, a presentation organizer, and a fully loaded spreadsheet tool.  In essence, you get Word, PowerPoint, and Excel for free.  An added bonus, you can save any file in OpenOffice format OR in the corresponding Microsoft format so there will never be compatibility issues.



My love for Google products will now show through.  Google Calendar is simple and highly effective.  You can merge nearly all online calendars into your Google calendar account. You can send yourself reminders using email, phone call, or text message. You can list recurring events in any imaginable patter (e.g. same date each year, 2nd Saturday of March each year, etc.)



1. Gimp is a professional image editor with a student's pricetag.  This free program comes with nearly all the bells and whistles you would find in the newest version of Adobe Photoshop.  The user interface is not idea and takes some getting used to. However, with a price tag of $0 this is a great piece of software.


2. I have heard great things about Paint.Net.  I must admit, I have never used it because I have spent so much time using Gimp that I don't need anything else.  However, it is worth a try if you are looking for more free graphic editing options.



Audacity is a free, open-source program that facilitates the recording and editing of all audio and sound files.  I often use it to make my own 'radio edited' song versions.



Foxit Reader is far better than the free Adobe Reader. It requires far less resources when it is running on your computer, and it provides free mark-up tools including text editing, highlighting, commenting, and basic geometric shapes.



CutePDF Writer is the free version of CutePDFs vast line of products. The free writer allows you to convert any image, document, or screen shot to a PDF.  I use this product all the time. I save documents as PDFs and place them on my thumb drive rather than printing everything out.



There are actually quite a few free antivirus options out there. Many of the web giants (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc) have their own free antivirus software. My personal favorite is Avast!, which the program that comes with GooglePak.  Just be sure you click on the FREE version, as they have other options.



Mint.com allows users to track all bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investments in one place. The software is similar to costly software like Quicken, but is free and is web-based: which means you can check your information on any computer, any time.




The best resource in this category, I must admit, is not free. EndNote is a must-have resource for research and reports. It is user friendly and will save you hours of time by automatically plugging in your references and bibliography. There are a number of free programs that try to mimic EndNote's features. Some are good, but after trying them I ended up purchasing a student edition of EndNote because it is so much better.  Here is a list of free bibliography and reference managers. Or you can check out the wikipedia page which compares all reference managers, free and non-free.



R (The R Project for Statistical Computation) is a free text-based statistical computational software program.  It is not for the feint-hearted. The learning curve is steep, but once mastered, this free software provides all the tools to run any statistical analysis, graph, or plot.



Not all LaTeX editors are created equal.  WinEdt is a clean editor without the frills of other programs. I have used this software for 5 years and I have never had even one problem (something that can NOT be said about most LaTeX editors!)  The free version will frequently ask the operator to purchase the full version, but it is never required.



XMind assists individuals and teams in keeping track of ideas and goals. If you have never used mind-mapping software, you need to start. XMind creates the prettiest visual map, but there are other options that work just as well. FreeMind is another great one.



Did I forget something? If you know of more great, open source software please leave a comment.

MD Consult: Free books, reviews, articles

You can never buy every book you will need in medical school, and you would never want to. Luckily, most medical students have acces to MDConsult, a web-based database that contains innumerable resources for students, residents, and attendings.


The site is not free, but you probably have access through your school or your hospital.  Once you are successfully on the site, you will have access thousands of texts, articles, reviews, and drug information. In fact, many of the books are downloadable in pdf format.  This includes many of the books you will be required to purchase and read during all four years of medical school.  It is always a good idea to check MDConsult prior to purchasing a book, especially if you just need to read a portion of the text.

Also, if you need to find a specific journal article that your library does not have in print or electronically, always try MDConsult as they have millions of searchable articles that are easy to find.

They have a nice app too, which can be used on a phone, ipod, or tablet.

Epocrates: Your brain in your hand

Did anyone actually enjoy studying pharmacology during the 1st and 2nd year of medical school?  One of the best resources you can have during your 3rd year rotations and into 4th year, internship, residency, and beyond is solid pocket medication and prescription reference.  Epocrates is the most widely used pocket reference and I can say from personal experience, it is a MUST HAVE.  There are many other apps, and some are good (LexiComp) but none are as good as Epocrates.

Set up is simple, download the app to your hand held device and the rest is self explanatory.  There is a free version and a pay version.  Even the free version is very good. However, your school likely has a tie in with Epocrates which will allow you to obtain the full version for free while you are in school.  Ask your administrators to provide this service if they do not already do so.

The Epocrates site provides the free download for Apple, Blackberry, Palm, Android, and Windows Mobile devices

Medscape: The Most Downloaded Medical App

Medscape (now part of webmd.com) has produced the most widely used medical apps on the market.  The best part is, they are all free.  The main app links you to a database of review articles, disease definitions/physiology/pathology, and management guidelines.  It provides very quick access to important information: you could look up first line medications for community acquired pneumonia in the 15 seconds before you get pimped!

Their main site provides free app downloads for Apple, Blackberry, and Android users.  I have to admit, I use this ALL THE TIME right now during internship.  It is amazingly useful and user friendly


In order to download the app you will need to register with the website (here).  This will not only open the door to all their free apps, but also to all their online resources including free articles, text books, and reviews.  It will also allow you to view their annual physician compensation survey, one of the best ways to learn about how much physicians in each specialty earn.  See my dedicated post on this subject.






Uptodate: How to impress on rounds

Throughout your third and fourth year of medical school you will frequently be told to “read about your patients.” Uptodate.com is one of your best resources for succinct, up to date, and easy to manage medical information.  The site contains  review articles written by experts in the field and covers nearly all important topics in medicine.  Most large hospitals and medical centers have access to the database through their network.  There is a useful app too, but you may not be able to access it through wi-fi even within the hospital, due to some site restrictions.  But, DON’T PAY for it.  More than likely, there is a way to access it through your medical school.


How to Use:

Read about your patient before rounds or at night.  Learn the ins and outs of the disease process well to better treat your patient and to better answer questions when you are pimped.  See if your team is doing everything suggested by the review article.  If you find something to add, mention this on rounds or to your residents and mention where you learned it (uptodate).  Everyone in medicine respects the review articles on uptodate.  If you mention that your information comes from uptodate, everyone will now it is reliable.  In the same vein, NEVER admit you learned something from wikipedia…even if it is a great resource sometimes.