Medical Student Perspectives: What Should You Do During Your First Summer in Medical School?
The summer after your first year of medical school presents a unique opportunity to explore various areas of medicine through shadowing, research, and travel. Most medical schools provide resources to assist students in deciding how to spend their summer, and there are many societies accessible through a simple search on Google that have programs for medical students.
Traveling is certainly an exciting option. Many of my classmates traveled during their summer off, including trips to Africa, Central America, and South America, where they not only helped to provide care at the local hospitals, but also had time to have fun. I have received many e-mails with pictures of my classmates exploring rainforests, rafting down the Nile, and spending time with groups of local children.
The American Medical Student Association Web site provides a wealth of information about various travel opportunities. At this Web site you will find a search engine where you can find opportunities for medical students in any region of the world you choose. There is also information about how to fund your trip, a checklist of items to bring with you, and worksheets to help you compare programs.
Many students choose to do research during their summer off. If you have never done research before, or want to try to publish a paper during medical school, research is a good option. Finding a research project that you are interested in can be a daunting task, but there are plenty of resources to help you. If you are attending a research-oriented medical school, first find out what research opportunities are available. Do not worry about finding a project in the area of medicine in which you plan to specialize, just find a project that interests you. Many schools provide a list of available projects to students, and by contacting researchers directly you might find a project not on these lists. There are also numerous national research programs set up for students. I found the pamphlet created by the American Medical Association Committee on Scientific Issues to be helpful.
There are two key points to keep in mind about your summer during medical school. First, this is your last summer off, probably for the rest of your life (until you retire that is), so whatever you end up doing, make sure that it is something you will enjoy. Secondly, you will have plenty of time during your fourth year of medical school to practice medicine abroad, or to do research, so do not put too much pressure on yourself at this point to beef up your resume. If you want to travel with friends or spend time with family, then do it! No one says you need to do something related to medicine during your summer off. I wish everyone the best of luck, and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments.
Council of Student Members Representative, Central Atlantic Region
University of Virginia School of Medicine, Class of 2009
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