What to Do on Your Summer Break in Medical School Before Your Second Year

Your summer break in medical school is an opportunity to take a breather, have an adventure or prep for the next round of classes. What is the right choice for you?

The first year of medical school is coming to an end. The stack of books has grown on your shelf, the lecture halls are all too familiar, the temps are climbing, and the summer stretches out in front of you—that shimmering aquamarine ocean of possibilities. So, uh, what are your plans? This summer break in medical school may very well be The Last Summer of Your Life. But, no pressure. Here’s a little advice on how to make the best of it. 

First of all, there’s not one ideal recipe for the perfect summer between your first and second year of medical school - every person has different values, priorities and motivations. Remember this when summer chatter starts up and you’re discussing plans with classmates or reading forums and yes, blogs, about what you should be doing. Don’t base your decisions on what other people think or are planning. There isn’t a single right answer. This is not a board exam. Know thyself and do what speaks to you. (This is also important to remember when picking a specialty).


Spend time with family

Perhaps you might consider spending your summer break in medical school reconnecting with your family and friends who have stuck by you during this grinding first year. They’ve put up with ignored texts, tearful phone calls, and occasional radio silence for months. So maybe it’s time to book a ticket home to visit your core support system. Nurture those relationships before you dive into second year and check out again. 


Take a trip

Or maybe your summer break is time to take off into the wild world and put as many miles between you and your physiology textbook as possible. Reconnect with the outside world by jumping into another culture, language or experience. Immerse yourself in something completely new and unrelated to medicine. Relax on a beach, hike the Pacific Crest trail, learn to scuba dive, pretend you can speak French. Sometimes completely disconnecting from medicine is just what the doctor ordered.


Research Project

If the thought of getting lost in the wilderness is giving you hives and you prefer a reliable bench and pipette - consider research. Are you set on applying for a particularly challenging residency? Do you need extra padding for your CV or the opportunity to obtain a strong speciality letter of recommendation? Do you have a compelling idea for a research project? This can be a wonderful and stimulating way to spend your summer break in medical school. Keep in mind that research doesn’t necessarily require you to be in a lab setting - get creative and use your contacts to find the right situation. 


Volunteer Work

Engaging in meaningful volunteer work is another possibility, either in your own community or even abroad. Maybe you’re feeling burned out and need an opportunity to remember your humanity and why you chose this path in the first place. And don’t limit yourself to only medicine-related pursuits. There are many varied and exciting ways to donate your time and your skills. Explore a range of volunteer opportunities. Medicine is a noble profession and the very best physicians lead with empathy and compassion. 


Shadow a Doctor

Are you unsure of what specialty you want to choose? Good! This is very normal and appropriate at this stage of training - after all, you haven’t even started your clinical years yet! However, some people feel strongly about dipping their toes in early and getting an idea about what electives they might choose when the time comes. Or perhaps you are interested in a super specialized field of medicine or one that isn’t offered as an elective in the clinical years. If so, you may consider shadowing over your summer break. This may solidify your interest in an area or make you realize that doing neonatal maxillofacial microsurgery makes your skin crawl - brilliant! What great insight to gain. Your school's clinical rotations coordinator may be able to provide some guidance and resources for pre-clinical shadowing. 



Of course, studying over your summer break in medical school or pursuing additional courses or certifications are also options (and ones that many people will say they are doing though few probably actually do). Was the first year in school more difficult than you had anticipated? Do you feel that some review time to form a more solid foundation for 2nd year would help alleviate some nerves or give you a leg-up? Reinforcing basic concepts or re-visiting challenging areas might be a helpful and worthwhile pursuit during these two months of freedom. Just be sure to step outside the library a few times for your daily allotment of vitamin D. Maybe you’ll decide to refresh old concepts or preview new ones by doing a few Sketchy lessons a day in combination with another idea from this post. Either way, trust us on the vitamin D. 


A Job Job

Perhaps it makes sense to briefly re-enter the workforce. You can start saving to pay on those already looming student loans and create a little bit of padding to reduce next school year’s debt (the interest is real and every saved penny counts). Or just add it to your pizza fund. It’s also good to remember what the real world is like and surround yourself with normal people. Not that medical students aren’t normal per se… but, you know what I mean. Tutor high school students in SAT prep, work at a summer camp or as a lifeguard. Call an old employer to see if you can help out on a temporary basis - use those contacts and be willing to be flexible. 

Whatever you decide during your summer break in medical school make sure you’re being true to yourself. In doing so, you’ll return fresh and prepared for the 2nd round as an MS2. Yep, year two is just on the other side of this summer, so get excited, jump in and make it count.

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