Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Spend the Summer before Medical School

(Hint: Don’t pre-study.)


So, you’ve made it into medical school. And’s it’s summer. No more required resume-building activities, no more endless hours staring at a lecturer droning on and on about something you’ll never need after passing the next test, no more….oh, wait. I guess there’s more of that to come.

But not just yet. For now, the day is yours. So how should you spend it?

Don’t pre-study.

Listen. I get it. We’re all premeds, and by definition, we are generally all highly neurotic. We don’t really think we need to know all there is to know before medical school, we just want to “be prepared” or “be ready to jump in” when school rolls around – especially if we’ve been out for a little while. So why not just casually glance through Rohen’s or perhaps start reading Bate’s Guide to Physical Examination & History Taking while falling asleep? Can’t hurt, right?

Well, perhaps not. But when you actually have to read those books later, you’ll be kicking yourself for not taking advantage of your free time when you had the chance. Take the advice of multiple medical students, residents, and attendings who echo the repeated refrain: Don’t pre-study.

So, now that that required intro is out of the way, what should you do with your now-plentiful (hopefully!) free time? For some of us, we still need to work. Money, as your mother might have taught you, doesn’t grow on trees (but if you do find a money seed, please contact me). You’re still living, which means you need to live somewhere, eat, and pay for transportation to get to and from wherever you're going. That said, you likely worked during school, and you’ll quickly find that coming home from work to a bunch of homework is entirely different than simply working and coming home to significantly fewer responsibilities. As a bonus, your free days are often actually free, rather than periods of catch-up studying for the next exam or what-have-you. Ah, the glory…

So what to do? A couple things. For starters, while it’s generally a bad idea to pre-study, most of us are excited for what’s to come and want to do something related to medical school. So perhaps you could spend some time figuring out how you are going to study. Consider your past study habits and how they’ve worked for you, and then consider the format of your upcoming classes and consider how your habits might translate or need to be changed. Are you a book learner? Do you do best drawing things out? Studying in a group? Going to lecture? Some combination of the above? Peg your learning style now, so that you can begin studying efficiently when school starts in a few weeks.

For example: I like to solo-study. I don’t exactly like studying in a group, but I don’t mind it – as long as I’ve gone over the material at least once and have a general grasp of it. I can then use the time to help others learn it, which has the double-whammy bonus of 1) helping them and 2) reinforcing the material for me. But generally, I’m a bit of a loner in that regard.

Also, I like flash cards. I used them frequently in undergrad and while studying for the MCAT with great success. For material that I want to have down cold, these are my go-to tool. But they are a pain to make and store, and I now have a bunch of old flashcards that I’ll never look at again but I just can’t bring myself to throw away…

Solution? While perusing the internet, I came across a link to a blog by user who goes by the name of Dr.Willbe. In this post, he provides a great overview of some relevant first year tips, one of which involves using a spaced-repetition program called Anki. He goes into further detail about the program here, and since he’s done such a great job of distilling it into an understandable post, I’ll refer you there for further information if you’re curious (Update: I've written more about Anki here). Anki isn’t for everyone, and there are other options (like Gunner Training or the new-and-improved Firecracker) for those who want flashcards but don’t want to make them.

Also, during undergrad, I largely took notes by hand. I personally didn’t own a laptop until the last semester of my senior year, and then only bought one for medical school. After using it to take notes for a couple of extra-credit guest lectures (those are always nice…), I had a hard time going back to hand-writing my notes for my regular classes. It doesn’t help that my hand writing could easily be confused with the marks a chicken would make on the ground if it were to accidentally step in wet paint. So it was a no-brainer that I’ll be using a laptop for notes in medical school. The question then became exactly how I would go about it? Microsoft Word (or Pages, for you Mac users)? That would work….but then I discovered OneNote. Perfect. An easy, flexible way to take notes and access them anywhere.

Of course, figuring all this out certainly didn’t take the whole summer. What else can you do? Obviously, spending time with friends and family is important. For many of us, we will be moving away and even if we aren’t, we will be much busier than we are now, thus potentially reducing the amount of quality time we can spend with loved ones. If you are married, talk with your spouse about this now and be sure that all parties know what’s about to happen. But at the same time, just because you are in medical school doesn’t mean you get to ignore everyone – especially your spouse. Decide now that, while you will strive to do well, you will have boundaries and accept that there will be days where you won’t be able to study as much as you might like because it’s now time to be done and go spend time with your loved ones.

Another thing you can do during the summer is to adopt a hobby or learn about something new. Personally, for example, I had always been somewhat curious about investing, finance, and all that that entailed but never really sat down and learned about it. That’s changed this summer—I’ve had a great time reading books, online resources, and various forums about investing, and have learned a ton (but of course, I still have much to learn). In fact, I’ll probably be posting about relevant issues for medical students and residents in the years to come. This is one of those things that is better to learn sooner than later.

For those who are interested, here are a few places to get started (Update: I've written more about this topic too, which can be found here):

This is a great resource for medical students and residents in particular, but also for anyone interested in investing. It is written by an emergency medicine physician, and has a lot of great info about all sorts of things. I would highly recommend reading all of the articles linked in his “First-Timers!” section from top to bottom.

What is the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA? What’s a 529? How do mutual funds work? The answers to these questions and more can be found here. I recommend reading at least through all of the articles under the tabs “How to Invest” and “Retirement” to get a general idea of what’s going on. One word of caution: This site offers a lot of great free content, but has to make money somehow. This often comes in the form of “hot stock tips” newsletters and what not. Ignore these.

Don’t be thrown off by the strange-sounding name – this wiki and the associated forum are one of the one of the best resources online for learning about investing and finance. Spend some time here – it will serve you well in the future. If you have any questions, ask away in the “Help with Personal Investments” subforum – you can get answers within minutes from many wise individuals, including those who have authored some of the most common-sense investment books available today.

If you really want to learn the nitty-gritty details about stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etc., this is the place to go. It takes some time – I’m still not done yet – but going through their free classes is an excellent way to learn some of the finer points of investing.

So there you have it—a number of free, easy ways to learn about investing. Again, this is one of those things that will serve you well if you get a handle on it sooner than later.

In sum, there are a number of ways to spend your summer. Above all, though, be sure to spend time doing things you enjoy with those you love – that’s definitely something that you won’t regret later.


  1. Loved this post, thanks for sharing find it especially interesting that you got into investing the summer before medical school cause that's what I'm currently doing so will definitely check out your recommended reads.

    1. Glad you found it helpful - enjoy your summer!


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