There are TONS of options for how to spend your summer vacation. I think it’s really important to do at least one thing each summer to add to your extracurricular activities. Whether this means shadowing, volunteering, working, or doing research you never want to miss an opportunity to add to your resume.
High School Students
When you’re in high school it’s not imperative to do medically related activities. If you can find medically related activities it’s just icing on the cake!
Options for summer vacations activities:
1. Academic enrichment programs📚
I did an academic enrichment program freshman and sophomore year of high school for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and I loved it! Yes you are learning during summer vacation but honestly, so are your competitors at your high school and other high schools. Most of the programs have fun activities, field trips, and even overnight stays at nearby colleges incorporated in the curriculum. Colleges really appreciate these programs because they it shows your commitment to learning and supports your personal statement when you say you’re interested in a certain major. Some programs even aim to funnel high school students from the program into their college.
2. Volunteer 🏩
Volunteer work is usually much easier to find and less time consuming than a job. Obviously, the downside is you’re not getting paid. The bad news is a lot of opportunities in college will also be presented as volunteer work so be ready. Many students interested in pre-med will find a volunteer position at a hospital to immerse themselves in the medical environment. This is a great option because it’s most likely your first introduction to the medical world. This will also be beneficial because it can fulfill your community service requirement. However, many other students will also be hospital volunteers, so you should definitely find other activities to set yourself apart on your college application.
3. Find a job 💰💵
Welcome to the real world and your first paycheck! Jobs look great on college applications, even if they aren’t medically related. You show an ability to work with others and commitment to something because you didn’t just sit on the couch all summer. (Colleges don’t like couch potatoes). A summer job also provides opportunities like the potential to continue working throughout the school year and leadership positions. Any summer job- administration, retail, the food industry, babysitting, working at a summer camp - demonstrates excellent characteristics and will look great on a college application.
I think it’s incredibly important to do something medically related every summer because you don’t want to waste an opportunity to build your resume. Unfortunately many of the medically related experiences are only volunteer work. As a result, I often volunteered and maintained a job.
Options for summer vacation activities:
1. Academic enrichment programs📚
College is an excellent time to start experimenting with specialties, which can be overwhelming because there are so many options! Academic enrichment programs provided by colleges and medical schools offer a variety of opportunities. Some programs are more clinical, where you can shadow facility members for several weeks, see patients, and get hands on experience. Some programs are more research based, where you are paired with a faculty member, take part in their research, and make a presentation at the end of the program. Some programs are more academic, where you take pre-requisite medical school classes, such as anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, etc and get MCAT preparation. Some programs are a combination of all three options! Speak to your advisors, the dean of your pre-med program, or even Google to find which program best suites you.
2. Shadow a doctor 👩🏽⚕️👨🏻⚕️
If there’s a doctor you’ve really admired or are really interested to see their daily activities just ask them if you can come by once a week and shadow them. Doctors are used to it and they’ll be happy to say yes. This is a great way to find out which specialty you love and what is just not for you. (This is when I discovered I was not a fan of cardiology and I really loved peds!) Don’t feel obligated to be there every day for an entire summer. One day a week will suffice and if you truly love it you can always ask to add additional days.
3. Research 🔬
Medical schools loveeeeeee research. Even if you have no interest in research, you must have a research experience on your application. It was the second question in most of my interviews after “Tell Me About Yourself.” Why is research so important? Basically medical schools are asking, “Do you have enough innovation to add to the medical field or even change the world? Can you do it while you’re at our school to make us look good?
I personally was not a fan of basic science and refused to spend my time in undergrad pipetting and looking at bacteria. I was able to find a clinical research study that worked with African-Americans in urban environments and figure out different exercise regimes and diets that would improve their health. Even though this was not the normal type of research, my interest in this subject led me to creating my own projects, which impressed medical schools. I strongly suggest finding a research project that will set you apart from all of the other applicants (since everyone is doing research). Quality is much more important than quantity aka the number of years you spend pipetting and looking at bacteria but have nothing to show for it.
4. Find a job 💰💵
Yea yea Kamali, I hear you and your “how to spend your summer” advice but I need something that isn’t going to leave me with an empty wallet. I totally understand that struggle. Every summer I either found an academic enrichment program that provided a stipend or had a job on top of research or shadowing. Unlike high school, it’s crucial to have medical experiences so you can’t spend all of your time working at a normal after school job. However, if you are able to balance multiple activities, medical schools absolutely respect that. Just do your best to work and add a couple of medically related activities that may only take 1-2 days out of the week to make sure you have the experiences you need.
Dear medical students, I hate to break it to you but you only get one summer during medical school. The summer vacation between 1st and 2nd year will only last about eight weeks. It’s completely up to you how you want to use your free time. I definitely suggest doing something that is going to enhance your residency application.
Options for summer vacation activities:
1. Research 🔬
Research is an unwritten requirement for the more competitive specialties. Do some investigating here to figure out the average number of publications medical students have who matched to your preferred specialty. Unlike medical school admissions, residencies expect you to be heavily involved in your research. It definitely helps if you show initiative and develop your own projects. It’s best to find an opportunity after 1st year and hopefully it can continue into 2nd year to maximize your research experience.
2. Clinical experience 💉
You’ve finished first year and you actually know a little something! Put it to the test and get hands on experience in your favorite specialty. You have a white coat full of supplies you finally figured out how to use, do you want to abandon it for the whole summer? It will be a great opportunity to build a connection with an attending for a letter of recommendation in the future.
3. Study Abroad 🌎
If you love to travel and experience other cultures this option is for you! There are so many amazing (and fully funded) study abroad opportunities. What better way to spend your summer than going on vacation and having a clinical experience? All my classmates who went abroad had a fabulous time and were dying to return.
4. Vacation 🏖🌴
You just finished your first year of medical school!!! I’m definitely not going to tell you not to take a couple weeks to yourself and refresh. You thought first year was difficult, just wait for second year and the Step 1 USMLE exam (but we won’t worry about that now). Turn you brain off for a couple weeks, go on vaca with family or friends and enjoy life!
Many applications are opening this time of year, so start planning your summer activities. Good luck and make the most of your summer!