Do Med Schools Have Summer Break? What Medical Students Do in the Summer

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Ah, summer. This all-time best season brings plenty of sunshine, warm weather, BBQs, beaches, and swimming, but best of all, it brings a much-needed break for students of all kinds. As a premed, you’re likely wondering if med schools have summer break. How long is summer break in medical school? Is it actually a break, or do you have important obligations to fulfill outside of your coursework?

In this post, we’ll answer your questions surrounding the logistics of summer break, including what medical students do in the summer months, particularly between MS1 and MS2.

 

Do Med Schools Have Summer Break?

Medical schools vary wildly from one to the other, so we can’t speak for every single one, but generally, you can expect to have one traditional summer break between your first and second year of medical school.

After that, generally speaking, you can kiss your summer breaks goodbye.

Many students decide to use the summer break between MS2 and MS3 for their dedicated study period before taking Step 1 or to begin their clinical clerkships. And there’s no such thing as a summer break between MS3 and MS4, as you will continue being in clerkships based on the schedule that you chose.

Since your other “summer breaks” are dedicated to studying for your Step exams or fulfilling your clerkships, your break between MS1 and MS2 is extra special. It’s your last real summer break, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to gain experience, prioritize wellness, choose which hobbies you want to continue pursuing, spend time with loved ones, etc.

 

How Long Is Summer Break in Medical School?

The length of your summer breaks will vary depending on your medical school. Some schools break up their years into semesters, some into trimesters, and some into quarters, so this will affect which months are included in the summer break. And there are also programs that compress the preclinical years from two to one, so that may affect the summer break as well, as classes may have to extend into the summer months.

That said, by and large, it’s common for medical schools to have a traditional summer break lasting about two months after the end of MS1. While the days will vary, generally, summer break will last from the end of May or the end of June to the end of August or the beginning of September.

However, don’t expect to have too much of an actual “break” during any year of medical school. While the summer after MS1 is a more traditional summer break than participating in clerkships or studying for Step 1, there is still plenty for you to do and accomplish.

 

What Do Medical Students Do in the Summer?

What medical students do in the summer largely depends on the year of medical school they are leaving. If you’re leaving second year, more than likely, you’ll be using that time to study for Step 1 or to begin your clerkships. If leaving third year, count on more clerkships all the way through the summer.

But if you’re leaving your first year, you have more options.

How you spend the summer after MS1 can set the tone for your own time management and ability to balance your health and personal life with your studies and career path.

1 | Gain Extracurricular Experience

Activities examples - students participating in medical related activities

As a medical student, you want to use your summer to your advantage. A research summer is a great way to gain worthwhile experience and potentially make a little money as well. It’s important to find a side hustle, so to speak, as medical school isn’t getting any cheaper.

Short-term per diem jobs are a good thing to look into, and these are usually in the form of research fellowships or research assistantships. Find something that works well with your schedule. Another option is working as a TA, a mentor for high school programs, or a tutor to lower income college students who want to become doctors.

Choosing which extracurriculars you spend your time on is a balancing act. You want to show commitment by sticking with the same job or experience for a notable length of time while also ensuring you have a variety of different experiences to speak about on your residency application and interviews.

The summer between MS1 and MS2 is an ideal time to experiment with different extracurricular commitments to determine which ones you will keep up with part-time during the following years of medical school.

Types of Extracurriculars graphic

Continue to expand your medical knowledge and qualifications during the summer, but be sure to reserve time for health, wellness, and friends and family as well.

2 | Don’t Lose Your Healthy Habits

To succeed in your first year of medical school, you need to build strong routines and healthy habits. Don’t throw these away over the course of your first summer, as these are habits you’ll need as soon as you enter second year.

Developing good habits and maintaining the ones you built during your first year is vital not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term, as it sets the tone for how you will approach the increasing busyness that’s going to become your life.

If you build and maintain good foundational habits in terms of work productivity and achieving balance, that’s as important as getting a publication because medical school is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s easy for medical students to forget this. Plus, the marathon continues straight into residency (unless you take a gap year), so it’s incredibly important to build these habits as soon as possible.

Stick to your morning routine and night routine, as well as any other habits you hope to continue when you return to school.

3 | Prioritize Wellness and Wellbeing

The summer after MS1 is your chance to integrate your work and life. It’s all about finding balance.

After first year, it can be very difficult for medical students to relax. Every moment of quiet and relaxation brings with it the anxiety that you should be doing something else, something more productive. While there is a lot to do, this summer is an opportunity to see how you can still feel good about yourself and your progress without overcommitting.

You have to be very cognizant of your internal thought process. It’s easy to get anxious about what is too little, what is too much, and what is enough. But keep in mind, these couple of months are not meant to be as busy as first year. It’s okay, and encouraged, to take a bit of a break—and your mind, body, and spirit really need one. Burnout is a real risk for med students, so it’s important to be mindful of your own physical and mental health.

Identify activities that improve your wellbeing and leave you feeling refreshed and revitalized. Eat healthy, exercise, see your family, and make time for the things you enjoy. Use time blocking to intentionally build time for wellness and wellbeing into your schedule, whether that’s time for mediation, lifting weights, playing sports, playing an instrument, painting, or whatever it is that helps you feel rejuvenated.

Use the summer after MS1 to achieve a set of baseline habits regarding wellness that you can hold onto in the following years. It’s important to develop these anchors in your life so that you don’t feel as though you are continually losing your quality of life and your relationships to medical school.

4 | Spend Time With Loved Ones

You probably haven’t been able to spend quality time with your loved ones for quite a while, and since your schedule isn’t about to slow down in September, be sure to prioritize this time. You will still be very busy, and as we just said above, anxiety can rear its ugly head and make you feel like you’re not spending your time productively.

It’s easy to worry that you’re not accomplishing enough, which may cause you to double your efforts academically and neglect your friends and family. You can develop tunnel vision, where the only thing you see is your goal of becoming a doctor.

But keep in mind that this time is also about reconnecting with your loved ones. They’ve missed you! In order to help them understand when you’re busy and when you’re not, be clear about your routine and schedule. Let them know when you’re available so that they don’t feel rejected when you say you have to study.

Plus, your friends and family can be good barometers of your mental health. If they think you’re overworking yourself, don’t automatically dismiss their feelings. Ask yourself, do you feel rested? Do you feel ready to enter your second year of medical school, or do you feel like your brain might burst?

Prioritize spending time with your loved ones—the people who make you feel good—so that you can recenter and be reminded of what is really important in your life.

5 | Determine What Hobbies You Want to Continue

collage of student hobbies - painting, writing, gym - AMCAS Hobbies

The summer after MS1 is an ideal time to figure out the activities that are most important to you. You likely weren’t able to keep up with all of your hobbies while you were applying to medical school and transitioning into first year.

What hobbies did you give up that you really miss? What hobbies did you give up that you don’t really miss at all? Which hobbies are important for you to prioritize even as you go into your busier years of med school?

For example, if your parents made you play piano throughout your adolescence and early adulthood and you never really enjoyed it, it might be a good time to be honest and prioritize other activities. If, however, you’ve noticed a dip in your energy and general passion for life after giving up music, it’s a good sign you need to reprioritize it to help you find balance as you continue your medical education.

Medical school is incredibly busy, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up the hobbies that bring you joy and help you feel refreshed. Balance and intentional scheduling are key to success in medical school and beyond. Use the summer to determine what hobbies enhance your quality of life.

6 | Explore Your Medical School City

In the rush of your first year of medical school, you may not have been able to get out much thanks to being slammed with huge amounts of studying every weekend. This means you may not be all that familiar with the city in which you currently live and will live for the next few years.

The summer after MS1 can be a great opportunity to explore and get to know the surrounding area if you haven’t already. Get to know the people you will be spending at least another three years of your life around.

Go for a walk. Visit neighboring restaurants. Book wellness days free from academic obligations throughout the summer that are all about getting to know your new community.

 

Success in Medical School and Beyond

Need help figuring out what to do with your summer break? Med School Insiders will pair you with a physician advisor who best fits your specific needs. We can answer your questions about what to do with the time between your studies, how to make the ideal decisions for your own needs, how to transition into your first year of medical school and beyond, and how to succeed in applying to residency.

Reach out to our team to learn more about our services, and follow the Med School Insiders blog for the latest how-to advice, strategies, personal stories, and industry updates. As you progress in medical school, we have comprehensive guides dedicated to helping you conquer each of your clerkships, as well as your residency application.

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