How to Spend the Final Months of Medical School Before Residency

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It is the biggest day of the year, and quite frankly in all of medical school: Match Day. It comes in mid-March, bringing long awaited news for each applying medical student eagerly anticipating the next step. Matching into residency is a huge accomplishment, one that deserves great congratulations. But once this immense hurdle is crossed, you may begin to consider the following question: What do I do next?

It is understandable that after achieving a goal toward which you have been striving for years, you may be unsure of what to do in the months remaining before residency. With all your attention fixed on the match itself, perhaps you did not have time to plan for this final period of medical school. With this post, I will provide some recommendations which can help you capitalize on this opportunity while recharging and revitalizing yourself before residency.

 

To Study or Not to Study?

The first thought that was on my mind post-match was whether I needed to study to prepare for residency. Perhaps I was unique in this concern, but I doubt I was. We have all been programmed for years to work hard and prepare for the next step, so it is only logical that you might feel a nagging compulsion to study prior to residency.

I would argue that studying during this time period is not crucial. At the end of the day, it is a personal decision how much you want to brush up and prepare for residency in the spring months. If it is something that will comfort you and make you more confident, then studying makes good sense.

I do think it is reasonable to brush up on key components of your chosen specialty or subject areas in which you feel particularly weak. With that said, I do not think studying prior to residency is particularly important. You have learned so much over 4 years of medical school that you can trust that you have the appropriate foundation of knowledge. You are unlikely to gain much by trying to add to the foundation at this point.

Furthermore, internship and residency are tough no matter what you do to prepare. The learning curve is steep. In my opinion it is doubtful that extra studying during the last few months of medical school will tangibly affect your clinical performance. As mentioned before, it may provide you more comfort and confidence which could make it a worthwhile pursuit. It also may help you fortify knowledge gaps or areas of weakness which may help you down the line. But it is my opinion that overall, worrying about studying post-match will not make a large difference in your residency experience. Thus, I would recommend not stressing about it, and only doing as much as needed to make you feel comfortable and confident.

 

Enjoy Life

In my opinion the most important opportunity that the months leading up to residency provide is the chance to focus on other aspects of life outside of medicine. It is crucial during this time to enjoy yourself in whatever capacity is best for you. Some medical schools have built-in time off at the end of fourth year, while others do not offer this privilege. Generally, though, MS4’s are able to take on a lighter load after match, either enrolling in more relaxed rotations or actually taking some time off for vacation prior to starting residency.

I would recommend the following: outside of school and work, focus on whatever makes you most happy and healthy. Sleep enough each night. Exercise. Dedicate more time to whatever hobbies or activities you were less able to pursue amidst a busy medical school schedule. Be cognizant of what adds to your personal wellness and make a concerted effort to do more of those things in the down time that you have. In doing so, you will hopefully revitalize and recharge, allowing you to take on the challenges of residency with the best possible mindset and health.

If possible during this time, try to travel! It is difficult to take extended vacations during residency. Though not impossible, it may be challenging to travel internationally much during your residency years. If you are able, taking a trip to relax and experience a new part of the world can be both eye-opening and revitalizing.

I myself was fortunate enough to have time off prior to residency which allowed me to travel to India, Thailand, and Bali. This trip was one of the most memorable times of my life, and I am so glad to took the opportunity to get away from medicine and my daily stressors prior to gearing up for residency.

 

Consider Taking a Specific Rotation to Expand Your Skillset

Please pardon the abrupt transition back to discussing medical school itself. As alluded to prior, I do not find this to be a top priority, but you may consider enrolling in an elective rotation to learn something new or add a specific skill. For example, some of my peers found it useful to do an anesthesia rotation which allowed them to practice intubation. This later proved useful in residencies such as emergency medicine, in which intubation was a skill they would certainly require.

If there is something of this sort you want to specifically learn, perhaps such an elective could be a useful way to spend the remaining clinical months you have during MS4 year. The following rotations could be particularly high yield:

Anesthesia – for emergency or internal medicine residents to learn intubation

Radiology – for most specialties to gain familiarity with reading studies independently

Procedural rotation (if available and relevant to your chosen specialty)

Bedside ultrasound rotation – an increasingly useful skill being utilized by multiple specialties

 

Prepare for Life Outside the Hospital During Residency

Establishing a new life in a potentially unfamiliar city is always challenging. It can be even more so in residency due to the very limited time off that intern year provides. As you likely did prior to college and medical school, begin to think about where and with whom you will want to live. Seek out resources such as resident forums provided by the residency program or class Facebook pages to meet and discuss such topics with other incoming interns.

 

Learn a Bit About Personal Finance

While this may not be necessary for all, many graduating medical students may share my relative inexperience with nuances of personal finance. For many, managing considerable debt accrued during medical school as well as a new resident salary will be a novel experience. Having an understanding of the basic concepts of personal finance will be very helpful during this transition.

If this is something you would like to learn more about, I would recommend doing some reading on personal finance. There are many books out there, most of which are not geared toward doctors specifically. Many of those will suffice, but if you would like something more medicine-specific, consider The White Coat Investor by Dr. James Dahle as a great, succinct option to bolster your knowledge.

Another resource which may be useful are the financial counselors at your medical school. I would recommend meeting with one prior to graduating to understand the details of your debt (if this applies to you) and possible loan repayment options. There are multiple repayment options, including some which have the chance of loan forgiveness. Knowing these options will be crucial for any student graduating with student debt.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I would emphasize that this is a unique time which affords the opportunity to relax and revitalize yourself as well as strengthen your skills and your readiness for life after medical school. Focus on maximizing your wellness and perhaps choose some of the tasks above which will make you more prepared for residency. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Be happy, healthy, and positive. You have accomplished something truly commendable by matching into your chosen residency field. Enjoy that accomplishment and the hard work you have put in!

No matter how you spend these months, challenging yet great experiences lie ahead in residency. Good luck!

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