Originally Posted Jul 20, 2018
While spring and summer periods often give students a much-needed break from the pace of university life during the regular academic term, this time also creates more opportunities to gain experiences relevant to your prospective medical career. With so many options, it can be hard to decide how to spend your time. The PMH Board made a by-no-means exhaustive list of popular pre-med summer activities with pros and cons based on our own experiences.
Hospital volunteering is a great way to get exposure to clinical settings. Most hospitals have a volunteer program, and even if the slots are full, make a contact at the office who you could reach out to next year.
You don’t ONLY have to volunteer at hospitals and doctor’s offices. You can help out in soup kitchens, animal shelters, or anywhere else you feel passionate about making an impact!
There are a lot of ways to get in touch with physicians to shadow. You can start off by asking your own doctor, family members, or family friends. Another option is to ask around your local hospital to see doctors who would be willing to let you shadow. Finally, you can try to cold call by looking up physicians in your area, coming up with a list of people you would be interested in shadowing, and contacting them / their office directly. If a doctor declines your interest in shadowing them, don’t be discouraged – some doctors work in clinics or specialties that aren’t as receptive to shadowing.
Many people choose to work during the summer to save up some money either to pay for necessities such as rent, meals, etc. However, there are definitely ways to work while expanding your interests in medicine:
- Leadership / teaching experience is helpful even if it’s not medicine-related at all
- Working in a group home or in hospice care: many group homes and hospice care organizations are always looking for workers to engage in direct patient care. However, these positions are often physically and emotionally taxing, so research the organizations you are interested in before applying or accepting the position
- Working as a scribe: this is a popular option for those looking to get experience in the hospital and get in contact with doctors who could provide a recommendation letter. Most companies do require one to two-year commitments so this option is best if you will be a part-time student in the fall and/or winter semesters or don’t have too many other commitments such as student organizations or passion projects.
- Working in catering / serving / waiting: these experiences may seem inconsequential, but they give you the opportunity to build skills that medical schools are looking for, such as showing initiative, being able to work in a team, and leadership. Don’t discount these valuable opportunities!
- Working as a tutor: Education is an important part of the medical field. Tutoring students on a specific subject or a section of the MCAT can demonstrate your knowledge, enthusiasm for science, and ability to work with others.
Another example of work over the summer is being engaged in research in a paid capacity. Certain departments offer more paid opportunities than others, so be sure to find a department that not only aligns with your research interests but can compensate you for your work (if you so desire).
If you’re not in Michigan for the summer, you can still get involved with research at universities near you. Browse the universities’ research pages and find professors you might want to work with. Email them expressing your interest and attach your resume. Make sure to stay in contact with them throughout the school year as well!
Take a vacation
Being pre-med comes with a lot of stress and pressure, but don’t forget to take a break! Focusing solely on work or your resume while neglecting your physical and mental health can have lots of negative short- and long-term impacts. Block off a week, or even a weekend, and go somewhere with your friends or family. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to the grind when you get back. Remember, it’s called “summer break” for a reason!
Study for the MCAT
One experience every premed will have to go through is taking the MCAT. Trying to balance studying for your University course load in addition to dense MCAT material isn’t ideal if you’re someone who likes to avoid pressure and multitasking. One option to alleviate some of the stress associated with the MCAT can be to push your test date to the nearest summer: AAMC offers test dates throughout the months of May, June, July, August, and September. The summer, which may be a time where you have minimal other responsibilities, is often the perfect time to start studying either by yourself or with a prep class. On the other hand, it can be hard to spend your entire summer locked up studying. Many students choose to combine a few other activities that don’t require too much mental strain, such as working a part-time job, volunteering, or playing IM sports, and spend the rest of their day studying.
Catch up on classes
During the regular academic terms, it can be overwhelming to juggle multiple pre-med requirements and courses for your major with your other activities on campus. For this reason, a number of students of all disciplines elect to spend Spring and/or Summer half-semesters taking a class or two when extracurricular distractions are at a minimum and campus is quieter.
If you don’t manage to obtain the course grade needed per medical school / major requirements, Spring / Summer term is a great time to retake a course with less distractions and earn a higher grade. This way, you won’t risk getting bogged down by an old class while starting other upper-level courses.
A huge multitude of experiences abroad occur during spring and summer. Many university-affiliated programs that will allow you to take a class in another country and receive college credit are available through the Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS).
You can also find shadowing, research, and work opportunities abroad. As with other summer opportunities discussed, do your research on the merits of these programs and their legitimacy before you commit if they aren’t directly through the University.
Immerse yourself in another culture –- no matter what you’re doing abroad, use your time there to grow as a person. Becoming familiar with another country’s customs and/or language gives you a viable method of connecting with colleagues, peers, and even patients in the future.
These are just a handful of the experiences that you can have during spring / summer break. Remember to recharge yourself so you can tackle the upcoming academic year with good health and strong focus. Don’t be discouraged if you’re doing something less glamorous than your friends are during break: concentrate on what you need to do. Being pre-med is by no means easy, and no one’s path to medical school looks the same.