How to Maximize Your (Only) Summer in Medical School

How to Maximize Your (Only) Summer in Medical School

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What should you do during last summer in medical school?

The “only” in the title may appear too grim but unfortunately, it’s true – if you’re wrapping up year one, then this will be your last taste of the typical school year.

After this summer there will be no “summer breaks” to look forward to.

For that, and many other reasons, this final summer in medical school is arguably your most important. Below I go over how to maximize it both for your future and for your sanity.

Plan a Trip:

If you have the 10-12 weeks then try to plan a getaway with friends and family. Even a short weekend is better than anything.

Regardless if you’re doing research or a clinical experience, you should plan to have fun. You’ve worked hard to complete your first year, congrats, now go celebrate.

I went to California (LA, Yosemite, San Fran) before starting my second year, and it was a great vacation before returning to the trenches of medical school.Go on a vacation in your summer in med school

Find the Right Balance Between Snooze and 100%:

It’s a summer vacation after all so you should feel like you can enjoy it.

Thus don’t treat it like the school year and refuse to hang out with your peers claiming you’re too busy.

You’re only going to be busier so don’t let your research/studies are taking over your life. You’ll be doing plenty of that the rest of your life so lighten up a little.

Still, it’s important to not turn completely off for your break.

Balance During Your Summer in med school


This summer should still be a time to further your medical journey.

Use this time to explore and strengthen your interests.

How you do this is up to you.

Regardless of the summer activity you pick, use the time to regain your motivation for going into medicine.

A year of hardcore studying can lead you to have a different perception of yourself. It’s helpful to use this time off to rediscover what you want and where you’re going.

It’s all about balance.

Be Careful with Research:

This is my personal experience and opinion speaking here.

Don’t freak out if you signed up for a summer research experience – many students do.

Unfortunately, with most schools still being traditional, research can be futile if you haven’t learned the knowledge that is often taught during second year.

Yes, many students overcome this steep learning curve. Still, others find themselves with research experiences that are a waste of time with little to show.

If you’re interested in research or in a field which requires its (Plastics, Derm, Radiation Oncology, etc.) then it’s wise to begin early.

This summer would be a great time to do it. Just understand you will need to work your butt off you to get a product at the end.

If your research mentor or PI doesn’t have a good timeline in place, think about joining other projects rather than putting all your egg in one basket.

Why Should You Do Research During Your Summer in Medical School?

Research is important. Mainly because it’ll reveal whether you can see yourself doing it as a practicing physician.

If not, some professions may not be for you and that’s better to find out earlier.

Also, understand you can be involved in research during your clinical and pre-clinical duties. I’ve done all my research during this time.

What Kind of Research Should I Do?

Beware of the basic sciences projects.

If you’re into that kind of stuff don’t cross it off your list, but understand these projects are notorious for being requiring longer hours of commitments compared to a clinical project.

My recommendation would be to work on clinical projects (chart reviews, retrospective studies, etc.). They often take less time to obtain data and you can thus spend more time writing and submitting to journals.

All my projects have been in this realm and I’ve worked on 5-6 projects in little over a year.

If you choose a clinical project, obviously make sure it is of value and not just another line on your CV.

While it’s important to have a product, you also want to sharpen your own skills in the process. I’m in the middle of my dedicated research block and will write a post soon about advice concerning research.

Master Your Basic Clinical Skills:

My medical school class was the first to undergo an accelerated 18-month curriculum at our institution.

Since I knew I would begin my clinical rotation earlier, I cared more about mastering my clinical skills then my research abilities.

What Did I Do For My Last Summer in Medical School:

I worked 2/3 of my summer at a summer camp for Type 1 Diabetics.

Pediatrics has always been an interest of mine and decided this camp would be a great way to explore my interests. I loved it.

This was not a shadowing experience at all.

As a medical staff, my peers and I were at the front line of treating everything!

We treated not only the diabetes of the campers and their complications (seizures, DKA, etc.), but also common musculoskeletal injuries, infections, and performed minor acute procedures.

While the clinical experience was vast, I learned more about the kind of medicine I was interested in. The interaction and the opportunity to build relationships became addicting for me during this summer experience.

Thus I know I want to continue this when I’m a full-fledged physician.  In addition, I witnessed my definition of hard work change day after day.

I’ve never pulled an all-nighter in my life prior to this summer but pulled 4 in the span of 2 months here.  The hours were crazy, the responsibilities were demanding, and often the gratitude was vivid. But that’s okay- that’s a dose of medicine.

To avoid making a long story longer, these interpersonal and clinical skills I learned carried over into my pediatrics rotation.

If there was one thing I was praised the most from my peers, residents, and attendings it was my confidence and interactions with my patients.

This summer experience surely played a great part in making me appear more ready than I was for my first rotation. I used the remaining time to relax, travel, and spend time with family and friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer experience.

What Kind of Clinical Experiences Can You Do?

If you’re doing non-clinical related activities (research, traveling, etc.) then try to fit in a few opportunities to keep you sharp! I couldn’t recommend this enough!

Look to see if there are any summer medical camps, internships, or preceptorships that you may be interested in.

If you desire to travel then there are many mission trips and international medical internships you can look into.

I’d recommend applying to these positions even if you think you’ll end of doing something else.

Should You Study for Step 1 During The Summer in Med School?


I would end the paragraph at that but some of you will choose to do the opposite anyway. So I’m going to lay this out for some of my more stubborn readers. 🙂

I can’t count the number of times I or a classmate said we’ll start studying for step 1 and half ass it.

The fact is you don’t understand the intensity required to study for step 1 until you’re in the middle of your dedicated study period.

If anything you’ll waste your time doing it over the summer.

The only caveat is if you struggled with a class.

If you failed or barely passed one or multiple pre-clinical courses during your first year, then yes take some time to review it.

This can be simple as spending 15-30 minutes a day for 2-3 weeks reviewing the topics you struggled with.

If you still insist on studying, I recommend active studying by using Anki Cards such as Broencephalon.

It’s a much better way to learn first aid, and you can, similar to above, review the topics you struggled with during your first year. 50-100 flashcards don’t take very long and would be the extent of reviewing I would recommend.

I’d suggest staying away from trying to “get ahead”.

There really is no such thing in medical school. There is always more to learn.

The only time you should be doing this is if your summer experience (research or clinical) requires you to know about a specific topic. It may be useful to open up your first aid and learn that.  Otherwise – no just enjoy your summer.

Spend Time with Family:

The clinical experience I did was great but it limited time I could see loved ones over the summer.

As I get busier, this will become more difficult.

Enjoy the company of your friends and family, regardless of how much or little you see them during medical school. You’ll wish you spent even more.

Trust me, I see them at least twice a month with my schedule and still wish I had more.

Relish it while you can.

Reflect On Your First Year:

This is important to do when you finish, but also right before you begin second year. 

The first year of medical school is a challenge regardless of who you are.

It’s important to reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

This is one of the biggest flaws I witnessed in my peers.

Most people would agree that second-year material is denser, but many students are as unprepared as they were first year.

Many fall into the same stress and procrastination cycle they were in during first year.

By now you should have some sort of routine down. You know what they say, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for your upcoming summer in medical school.

Fingers crossed you can spend this time with the right combination of relaxation and focus.

Enjoy your last chance at this much free time!

If you have more suggestions for maximizing this summer break, comment below.

Also please share and like this post to help your fellow peers!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

If you enjoyed this article then you may also enjoy these previous post:

Studying in Medical School No More Than 5 Hours A Day: 

How To Study Less in Medical School and Make Higher Grades:

How to Plan your Most Productive Day

If you want to learn a step-by-step way to study faster in medical school – get  a free 8 Part Video Course teaching you how to cut your study time in half! You can download it here. 

Until next time my friends…

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