When we were young, summer days were our most free. Our neighborhoods suddenly became hives of activity; kids playing baseball in the streets, video game sessions lasting all day, trips to the pool, family vacations, and most importantly, no school. Those days of summer seemed too short, and during the long winter months when school seemed to stretch on forever, I often sat and daydreamed of the days when I could wear shorts and a t-shirt. For many, summer vacations can last through college, with time spent abroad or back home enjoying the comforts of their childhood. Medical school, however, changes the game.
For those who come straight to medical school from their undergraduate institutions, the last true summer might be the one between the first and second year of medical school. In fact, most schools give students several weeks off to decompress after the long struggle of first year. Therefore, it’s worth asking: what do we do with this time? With that question in mind, I went out and queried fellow students from all years, as well as several physicians in practice and in academia, in order to collect ideas. Not surprisingly, there were a huge variety of answers, but they divided into two basic camps. About half said to do something, anything, to prepare ourselves for our future careers, and the other half said to enjoy the last vestiges of our youth.
The arguments are valid on both sides of this debate. Amongst those who said to do something “productive,” about 75% said to, more specifically, gather experience in an area of interest. Whether through shadowing or more formal experiences such as research opportunities, the idea is to gain whatever knowledge and experience you can to make choosing a specialty easier. Additionally, these measured voices said, you will gain a little extra something on your CV that might impress residency programs. For instance, a friend who had an interest in mental health and addiction medicine spent the summer doing research in a major university setting. He applied months in advance and said the experience changed his life. On the other hand, the remaining 25% said to spend time studying for the Boards. “They’ll creep up on you quickly, so best to start early,” one professor told me. He suggested creating a plan of action for the summer, including high yield topics to review each week.
The “do nothing” crowd, or those on the other side of the argument, also had their say. Many advocated that this last summer is the perfect chance to do a few things that simply won’t be possible in the years ahead. “For those who enjoy traveling, take the chance to get away,” they repeated again and again. A student who recently matched into PM&R told me that he went to Europe for 4 weeks, rode the train, met lots of great people, and “stayed as far away from studying as [he] could.” He added that this gave him the chance to recharge his batteries before tackling the challenges of second year and beyond. While traveling Europe might not be possible for all of us, finding ways to decompress should be. A family medicine physician who has spent 20 years in practice told me that he went home, saw family, and spent lots of time fishing.
In the end, there is no clear path. Just like with everything else, how to spend that last summer is a very individual choice. My own experience involved taking time off to rest and reflect, and also spending a month locked in a room with some fellow students crafting a business plan for a student-run free clinic, which, after a lot of work and fundraising, opened the next year. I also completed a 2 week internship in rural medicine. I wouldn’t change anything about the summer; both of those work experiences motivated me in different ways regarding the type of physician I want to become, while taking time to rest rejuvenated me for the trials ahead. No matter what you choose, remember to do what makes the most sense for you. If you need the rest, take the chance to get it. If you want to work on something you feel passionate about, do that. While it may seem like another multiple-choice question, in the end, there is no wrong answer.
travelling by Elvira S. Uzábal – elbeewa