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Medical Student Perspectives: Making the Most of Your Options: What Will You Do Between Your First and Second Years of Medical School?


The first year of medical school is challenging. You will put in more effort and focus in this year than you ever have before. Late nights, study groups, flash cards, and brain cramps are the norm during the first year, and you deserve a break when the summer comes. While you are relaxing, however, you should keep in mind the current trends in medicine.

The break following the completion of the first year of medical school provides students with a unique opportunity. This short recess from traditional studies presents students with a chance to explore interests or obtain experiences that they would not otherwise have during medical school. You should think seriously about both relaxing and working hard.

Most students choose to participate in some type of research or community health project during the summer months. These types of projects are opportunities to learn methods of research and statistics, become acquainted with prominent physicians and researchers, and possibly get published. You can also use this opportunity to present your research in ACP national or chapter abstract competitions, as well as at many other venues. To get a better idea of what many medical students do during their first summer off, I surveyed students at the University of Utah School of Medicine. The following are some of the responses.

“I worked for most of the summer doing research supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for medical students. I worked on a number of different projects related to the genetics of various eye diseases. I also spent three weeks in Prague to gain some experience in medicine outside of the U.S. The program in Prague is called a Summer Selective which is equivalent to a clinical rotation for many medical schools on the East Coast. The program offers a great opportunity to not only gain exposure in different fields of medicine as a second year medical student, but to learn about a completely different medical system. To learn more, you can check out the Web site. I highly recommend this program, it was a great experience.” - Nate Faulkner

“I just got back from Nigeria, with Deseret International. We set up an operating room and performed anesthesia for some eye cases and a cleft palate repair. I also did the Kaplan Summer Research Project with the Orthopedic Department.” - Chad Turner

“I did a student rotation in rural Idaho with local family physicians.” - Peter Crane

“I did cerebral malaria research in Ghana, Africa.” - Melinda Liddle

“I spent three weeks in China at the Western School of Medicine learning about their views of western medicine, as well as the basics in traditional Chinese medicine. I also did some research in autism.” - Matt D'Haenens

“I went to Belize and did an indigenous medicine program with traditional Mayan.” - Lisa Ryujin

“I worked in rural Alaska in an emergency room (ER).” - Cherie McCabe

“I had a great time doing research with Hispanics in the Salt Lake area, focusing on identifying perceived barriers to healthcare. I worked on it with the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, since they promoted student research projects.” - Nate Gilmore

“I spent a month in Ghana. We worked in a teaching hospital there in the microbiology lab as well as in the pediatric intensive care unit. We rounded with residents there and spent time learning in the ER.” - Neil Argyle

“I went to Guatemala for two months and worked most days in the local hospital in Santiago Atitlan. This was a small hospital that just got re-opened by a couple American physicians. They had a few overnight beds, a clinic, and an ER service. I stayed with a local family while I was there and did some traveling on the side. I did not speak the local’s language, and having very little clinical experience prior to going meant I spent a lot of time shadowing. But I did get to do some cool stuff, delivered a few kids, took out stitches, and saw lots of parasites. I found out about it by talking to every physician I knew and asked if they knew of physicians in other countries willing to take on students. I happened to run across the name of one of the physicians who re-opened the hospital and they encouraged me to come down.” - Wyatt Rivas

“I worked as a full time student on my MPH degree so that I could do the MD/MPH in four years.” - James Bartlett

For ideas about other possibilities, visit ACP Online. Many schools have research programs set up for students or programs to travel internationally. Talk to your Dean’s Office or the upper classmen to find out. Many students figure out what they are interested in and then talk to physicians in that field to find out if there are clinics that need help and are accepting students. Many physicians and researchers are glad to have you in the lab! You just need to ask around.

There are also NIH and Howard Hughes research opportunities available for interested medical students, either through the NIH or at your local institution. See http://www.hhmi.org/cloister/ and http://www.training.nih.gov/ for information. Another example is geriatric research through the American Federation for Aging and the National Institute on Aging or the Hartford Foundation. You could also do cardiology research through the American Heart Association . Click on funding and then select your region on the left side. Many of the national medical societies offer funding for medical student research.

Another option is to participate in a community health project, arranged through one of the departments. You could work on a secondary degree, like MPH or Informatics, or travel and do a medical mission of some type. Many groups take medical students during the summer. For example, Child Family Health International travels all over the world. The Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association has fellowships and internships available. You could also find a government-relations internship through the American Medical Association.

The possibilities are endless, but you must put substantial effort into planning and preparing. No matter what path you choose during the summer, remember to take time to study and review. The boards come quickly and it is difficult to go back and try to remember what you learned during the first year. Here’s my recipe for a successful summer: research during the workweek, six hours of study and review on Saturdays, fun for the rest of Saturday, and then just relax on Sunday.

Landon Dickson
CSM Representative, Midwest Region
University of Utah, 2008
E-mail: Landon.Dickson@hsc.utah.edu

Back to October 2006 Issue of IMpact

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