Summer is upon us! While having fun and enjoying yourself should be a top priority, having fun and being productive are not mutually exclusive. Below are some of my top tips on how to maximize your summer vacation.
Let’s get started with the general tips. Time is your most precious resource. Therefore don’t waste it. Focus on spending your time doing one of two things: having fun or being productive. Try to do both if possible.
As many of you are well aware, I am a systematic guy and I love being organized. As I’ve grown older, I realized that one of the best ways to stay on track and deliberate with your time is with lists and scheduling.
Create a list of goals at the beginning of your summer break. This list should include not only professional goals but personal as well. Do you want to exercise 5 times per week? Are you planning on taking the MCAT? What about research or a job – set goals early on in whatever it is you decide to do and work towards them.
2. Enjoy Summer!
There’s a spectrum with regards to how much each person likes to work versus have fun. Most people tend to be pretty good at having fun and relaxing and not as good with staying focused on work. Other people work too hard at the expense of their happiness and mental health. This piece of advice is for the latter.
Be sure to properly unwind, relax, and give yourself a mental break from the stress of the academic year. Be deliberate with your time. Plan out ahead how you want to relax, otherwise you may waste it by neither having fun nor being productive. By being deliberate with how you want to use your free time, you will end up feeling more refreshed, recharged, and happy with how you spent your time.
3. Get Outside of your Comfort Zone
During the school year we tend to fall into routines for better or worse. Due to class schedules, homework, studying for tests, and other responsibilities, it is much more difficult, although certainly not impossible, to make meaningful changes in our lives. Summer break is one of the best opportunities as a student to make changes, to get outside your comfort zone, to try something you’ve always wanted, to learn a new skill, or to pick up a sport.
Set out a plan of action on how to incorporate these changes and add them to your list and schedule. Consider having an accountability partner if that helps you stay on track.
Pre-med and Medical Student Tips
Now onto the tips for pre-meds, med students, and other students seeking a career in healthcare.
1. Get Clinical Experience
Hands-on experience in the hospital, clinic, or other healthcare setting not only helps you by padding up your CV and application, but also gives you the much needed insight to decide whether this career is right for you. If you can’t imagine yourself becoming an emergency physician after volunteering in the ED, consider getting involved in a different healthcare setting. For example, surgery is pretty awesome!
There is a variety of ways to gain clinical exposure.
Volunteering in the hospital is the most basic and common method, where you approach your local hospital or clinic and sign up to be a volunteer. While not a bad place to start, there are better options that provide you with more health-focused tasks rather than scutwork.
Joining an organization designed for pre-meds is one way to gain greater clinical relevancy with your work. At my undergrad, there were several organizations that offered clinical volunteering for pre-meds. They also had a fairly competitive application process. Some of these organizations are also tailored for clinical research that you perform, with the added benefit of increased exposure and interaction with patients and physicians. More on that in a bit.
Shadowing physicians is important, but it’s mostly to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are committed to medicine and understand what it means to be a physician, not what’s portrayed on TV. However, shadowing is a fairly passive process where you just observe. While you are still learning, you’re not pushing your own limits, learning new skills, or accomplishing a great deal. This is important, but don’t spend too much time on it.
Get certified to work in healthcare, jobs such as as a scribe, EMT, ER Tech, Medical Assistant, etc. I didn’t do this, but these are certainly great ways to get immersed and make money while you’re doing it. If you want to take up a job as a pre-med, this is not a bad option.
Mission trips can be a good way to gain exposure while traveling and helping in underserved communities. I participated in one of these programs. The ethical discussion of such trips is beyond this post – just know that not all mission trips are created equal. You ultimately should be making a positive impact in the place you visit – do your research beforehand.
Research is not mandatory for gaining admission into a medical school. However, if you are going for a highly ranked med school, research becomes increasingly important. Research demonstrates that you understand the scientific process, that you will likely continue performing research and producing publications moving forward, and that you are committed to progress and improvement in medicine.
Research for pre-meds is primarily divided into basic and clinical research. Basic includes benchwork where you are pipetting, working with mice, etc. Think wet lab. Clinical research is where you are performing research with actual patients involved. Think databases, surveys, etc. I ended up doing both while in college.
My basic science research position was a cancer lab, and I was paid hourly at a fairly good rate. Most research positions, however, do not pay. You may have to start with an unpaid position and build up your experience to qualify for a paid position.
My clinical research position overlapped with volunteering. I worked in the ED and enrolled patients who met inclusion criteria into a study. I was able to interact with patients, physicians, and the healthcare team. Equally important, during down time I was able to explore patient care outside of the OR, which is where I witnessed a neurosurgical intervention for the first time. Like many things in life, you get out what you put in
3. Pursue & Cultivate your Fun Extracurriculars
Like I said earlier, be sure to enjoy your summer as well. You can do this while also building your CV and application. This should be something you enjoy outside of medicine. All applicants will have clinical experience, an MCAT score, a GPA, and many will have research. These fun extracurriculars will be unique to you. They make you more three dimensional.
I had a friend who started a long-boarding club, which has nothing to do with medicine, but that demonstrated initiative and leadership abilities. He had a blast while he was doing it.
I joined a competitive dance team and picked up graphic design using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I ultimately obtained a leadership position and we went on to place at several competitions. This similarly demonstrated leadership skills and creative or artistic qualities – very fitting for plastic surgery.
These are my 6 tips for your summer break. I hope you found them helpful. Let us know in the comments what your summer break plans are.