How to Maximize your Winter Break as a Med Student in Med School

Winter break as a med student is a great time to reflect and plan for the future. We break down what you should do each year during winter break.

Wow, it’s finally here! Your first long stretch of time off during med school! Or maybe you’re in your second, third, or fourth year and you’ve already got one or more winter breaks under your belt. You’ve earned this vacation, so what’s the best way to use it? We’ll go over year-by-year tips to get the most out of your precious time off!


Tips For Every Year In Med School

REST. That’s right, I know, it may be sacrilege to say, but this is your number one task for your break. It’s rare that you get a full week off, or maybe even more, with no lectures, tests, or clinical duties, so take advantage of this while you can! Once residency rolls around, the words “winter break” won’t even be in your vocabulary. All joking aside, it’s important to have extended periods for relaxation and reflection during your med school journey in order to let that fire hose of information percolate throughout your exhausted brain and body. Just like an elite runner needs a rest day to truly perform at their best, so do you! Sleep, hang out with your family and friends, eat food that makes you feel cozy, read books, binge TV, anything to stretch those brain parts that were neglected over the last few months. 


First-year Med School Tips 

Ok, so you’ve done all the R&R you can stomach, and ditto that for the turkey and family time. You want to take advantage of your time off, but surprisingly, you feel a little *itch* to crack open that pathology book…what? It’s interesting! Now’s the time to take stock of how your year has been going: which study methods worked best? Which note taking methods? Do flash cards or practice questions help you better retain information? Taking this time to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked for you will tee you up for a successful second half of the year. So much of first-year is about getting your bearings, and winter break is a natural time to take stock and come up with a preliminary plan for how you’ll tackle all the upcoming classes.


Second-year Med School Tips

While schedules vary between schools, many med students will take Step 1 at the end of their second year in med school. Either way, the end of the second year often marks a huge transition time between the classroom years of medical school and the clinical years of…the rest of your life! Winter break of your second year in med school is a great time to think about these major milestones. If you have a big test–like Step 1– coming up in the spring or summer, then you can use winter break to develop a preliminary study plan for all the material you need to know for this exam. Not to toot our own horn, but Sketchy is a great place to survey all the material you’ll need to cram into that big ‘ol brain of yours. Winter break is also a time to think about your future in clinical medicine! Your school has probably given you some info on rotation blocks and on scheduling the next year of your life! This can be really overwhelming and confusing at first – but you can use winter break to adjust to the big changes that are coming up. Talk to upperclassmen, get some good shoes you can stand in for hours at a time, and stock up on some pens you don’t mind giving away to residents and attendings. Third and fourth year are the most exciting years in school, so get ready to feel like a real doctor!


Third-year Med School Tips

So, you have a number of clinical rotations under your belt and you’ve got SOAP notes down pat. You even mastered eating lunch in a moving elevator and not breaking the sterile field! Although you probably have a number of your core rotations left, winter break of your third year in med school is a wonderful time to reflect on rotations that resonated with you. Do you love the thrill of the OR? Don’t mind rounding multiple times a day? Discover that direct patient interaction isn’t your favorite thing (which is totally fine! There are many specialties where patient interaction is at a minimum)? Take this time to jot down your initial reactions—you’ll be glad you did when it comes time to pick a specialty. If you do think you’re set on a particular specialty, then you can use this break to look into possible sub-Is at other institutions where you may want to ‘audition.’ But if that sentence makes you break out in hives, ignore it! It’s most important to take time to be very honest with yourself about what you have and have not enjoyed and felt fulfilled by with your clinical rotations. 


Fourth-year Med School Tips

A speciality has been picked! Your residency applications are in! In fact, you’re probably in the thick of interview season. Winter break of your fourth year is a great time to start breaking out the confetti for the months of celebration ahead. But first things first…your rank list. You may not be completely finished with your interviews, but you more than likely have a good chunk of them under your belt. Start coming up with a prelim match list…we know it’s easier said than done. Here’s a fun/terrifying exercise: Write down each place you interviewed on a piece of paper, put them all in a bowl, pick one out (pretending it’s your match envelope) and take note of how it makes you feel. If that exercise sounds like too much, don’t do it! This is your last winter break of school, so really, the most important thing to do is to relax, celebrate, and give yourself a huge pat on the back for doing it – you’re going to be a doctor!

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