Making the Most of Your Fourth Year

It is often easy to forget in the midst of preparing for the Match that once it is over, you still have significant time remaining in your medical school experience. To make the most of this time, it is helpful to think ahead about what may want to accomplish until you graduate.

Remember that the fourth year is intended to allow you to reinforce and consolidate what you have learned over the past three years and continue to expand your clinical horizons as you prepare for residency training. Here are several things to remember about your post-Match fourth year that may help you achieve that goal:

  • Avoid the temptation to make the transition to residency too quickly. Medical school is challenging and in many ways exhausting, and there is obviously great excitement at the prospect of moving on to the next step in your professional life; these factors make it easy to disengage from medical school as soon as the Match is over. However, taking off as much time as possible or minimizing your participation in school activities (sometimes called "senioritis") diminishes your own learning and does not allow others to benefit from your knowledge and experience.

  • Learn for the sake of learning. Despite the fact that ideally there should not be a focus on your evaluations and grades during medical school training, being post-Match allows you to learn for the sake of learning without feeling the pressure of how you will be assessed or the potential influence a specific clinical rotation may have on your application. This usually makes your subsequent clinical experiences much more comfortable and allows you to approach them with a more collegial demeanor than before. However, remember that as with all educational experiences, you will get out of them what you put into them, so it is important to put forth a good effort.

  • Don't miss out on other learning opportunities. Remember that if you are planning to train in internal medicine, it is not necessary to focus only on internal medicine content and skills. Residency programs are structured provide you with all of the skills needed to learn to be an internist, and although having knowledge and experience in as many areas as possible would be helpful as you start your training, you should not miss other learning opportunities available during medical school. You will be training intensively for three years in internal medicine and the options to experience diverse and unique learning opportunities are more limited.

  • Take advantage of what your school has to offer. For example, if you have elective time, consider taking a non-medicine elective that might be of interest to you and might be of help in your future career (such as dermatology, pathology, ophthalmology, or a surgical rotation). The fourth year is also a great time to travel and experience medicine in other venues (such as in other medical systems or countries). Other electives or coursework might be helpful in developing specific interests you might have, such as medical education or leadership skills. If there isn't a specific course or activity that meets your needs, many schools allow you to develop an individualized elective to allow you to pursue areas of interest. These types of experiences will broaden your skill set and enrich your abilities as a physician.

  • Be a leader. Although your remaining time at your school is limited, as a later fourth year student you can play a major role in helping and mentoring other students. You have learned an incredible amount during medical school and have experienced about everything there is to experience at your institution. Helping guide others through this process is not only invaluable to them but can be highly rewarding to you.

So take advantage of the freedom and your accumulated wisdom during your fourth year - you'll be a better physician if you do!