Even though it is still pretty cold in most areas, summer is right around the corner. March has come upon us sooner than we expected and whether or not we want to believe it, the ending of this semester is just two months away. This means that now is the best time to think about what you should be doing with your summer vacation. This is a hot topic and is quite controversial when you talk to premed and medical students so what that tells you is that there is no right answer to how you should be spending your summer vacation. But one piece of advice I can offer is, find a couple of people who you trust and use their suggestions and if those suggestions have worked for you previously then do not stop taking their suggestions. I found a couple of premed students a year ahead of me who I felt offered advice that worked really well for me so I continued to ask these students even as they became busy during medical school.
The traditional volunteer activity you can do is go to your local hospital and volunteer in your free time. While this is a wonderful thing to do, if you do not get excited about volunteering at the hospital, try not to force yourself to do something just to write it down. If this is not something that interests you, find something else to do that you enjoy. Some examples:
- Spend time at your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. This is a great alternative because you get to spend time one on one with people and hear their stories. For me, volunteering at the hospital would get really boring but homeless shelters were a lot more exciting because you get to hear about people’s lives and how they ended up where they are now. A soup kitchen is great if you like moving around and want to be active with your volunteering.
- Some students like a more regimented schedule of volunteering and they like to participate in a program that has a volunteer schedule at a hospital. These types of volunteer experiences are a bit different from your garden variety volunteering experience at the hospital. These experiences provide you with more exposure than a regular volunteer experience would but are a bit more rigorous in terms of the time commitment. Whereas other volunteer activities allow you to come and go as you please, a regimented volunteer program requires your presence at specific times and days which can get exhausting but some people prefer one over the other. It is just nice to know that there are different types depending on your personality.
Summer is one of the best times to get started on a research project because it can take time to get things going and with summer vacation you do have enough time. The best thing to do is find a research project that you are interested in a couple of months before summer vacation and reach out to the mentor involved in the research and ask if there is a position for you. A piece of advice from someone regarding research is that when you reach out to the mentor, do not just send out a generic email to the mentor. Take some time to look into the research he/she is performing and in your email or phone call to the mentor, make mention of why you are interested in their research specifically. Remember there are a lot of other premed students and they all probably want a spot in some research lab so this is a great way of standing out from your peers. Also, instead of sending out an email to one lab you can email mentors from two or three different research projects at one time with the idea being that some will not get back to you.
If summer vacation is not the best time for you to participate in research it does not mean you will never be able to do research. It is just nicer to be able to focus on solely research rather than research and regular semester classes. Doing research during your semester is definitely doable and many people are able to handle the workload. But if you have the time and do not have anything going on during your summer break then you can consider doing research.
For us premed students, it can be a bit difficult to do study abroad during a semester because we have premed classes that we need to take and cannot really take them abroad. This is why I found it nearly impossible to do study abroad during the school year. But for me, summertime was the perfect fit. I decided to do a month long study abroad course in Medical Spanish in Spain. This was a wonderful way of not only doing a study abroad program and being able to travel but also relating my study abroad back to Medicine. It is not necessary at all that your study abroad program have anything to do with Medicine but I personally just lucked out and saw availability for this program. You can do so many different things abroad and it does not necessarily have to be a structured program through school. For example, the following is a listing of different activities people have done abroad:
- Mission programs through Church or other Religious organizations
- Teaching different subjects in third world nations
- Volunteering with health organization to provide relief in a needed area
This is something a lot of premed students do not know a lot about. There are actually a wide variety of programs that premed students can participate in from being completely free to having to pay for the whole experience.
- Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP)
- Columbia University
- CSSR-TCC Summer Internship Program
- BEST Diversity Program
- Harvard University Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program (SCTRP)
- Steamboat Foundation Summer Scholar Program
- University of Pittsburgh
- Summer Premedical Academic Enrichment Program (SPAEP)
- Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)
These are just some of the many programs out there and the awesome thing about most of these programs is that they pay you a stipend, provide housing, and transportation costs. It does not get much better than that honestly. Also, the list above is an abbreviated list of premed programs. Columbia university has a great website with some different options: https://gs.columbia.edu/premed-summer-programs#premed. But what you can also do is just type into Google “premed summer programs for free” or “premed summer programs with stipends” and look through the search results. Most deadlines for programs are early February to early April so take some time to look these up.
Although the other options listed above are great, many of us premeds have to work during the summer in order to make ends meet during the school year. In a recent study, more students than not have to work at some point during their college career in order to pay for schooling. Working during your summer vacation is not a bad idea because you need the money. Medical schools are very forgiving even though it may not seem that way because of the number of people that get in to medical school each year.
Sometimes we cannot choose to do the things we would like to because of personal commitments such as having to work to pay for school but that should not stop you from pursuing your dreams!
A piece of advice from someone who has gone through it
Whatever you end up deciding to do for your summer vacation make sure that you enjoy it because at the end of the day it is your summer vacation so it would be nice to be able to enjoy it. You have worked hard during the year and you deserve a little bit of a break during the summer time. Also, whatever you do, try and put your best foot forward because you may end up asking for a letter of recommendation from the person you worked with.
I remember my first day on my research project and I felt completely overwhelmed because it was in an area that I was unfamiliar with – Computer Science. Instead of being obnoxiously nervous I made my best effort in order to let them know how thankful I was for the opportunity and although I had little to no experience I was willing to work hard to be an asset to the team. You will be surprised how far hard work can take you even if you do not know anything about subject matter because your willingness to spend time on the subject matter. And also remember that your first impression will go a long way in this case so come to your first day excited, prepared, and understanding for any mishaps.