How to Spend Your “Last” Summer Vacation (After M1)

Anna Piazza - May 31, 2022
So much happens in your first year of medical school. In addition to learning, memorizing, and digesting all of the Basic Sciences, you’re also meeting lots of new people, finding your place within the medical community, and generally just getting used to your new life. It’s exciting, overwhelming and humbling, all at the same time.

So when that first whirlwind of a year finally comes to an end, the big question is, how will you spend your summer break?

Your first thought might be to relax or travel — and why not? You’ve certainly earned it, and it’s likely this will be your last full summer break. You’re already headlong in your professional career with an ever-busier schedule. But there’s something to be said about using this free time as an opportunity to think ahead and plan for your long-term career, whether that means kicking back and enjoying the time, reviewing for Step 1, or doing research work or internships.

So what should you do this summer? Here’s a helpful guide on how to approach the summer between M1 and M2.

Kick back and relax

You’ve probably faced more than a few challenges this year, trying to cram as much information into your brain as possible with every new topic that’s come up in your lectures. So, why not just kick back and take it easy?

“Time is a gift,” and finally having some for yourself to decompress and process what this year has been like and meant to you has definite value.  As Dr. Osose Oboh, resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, reiterates: “Breaks are necessary. You cannot be as productive if you don't take time for yourself to recuperate.”

And, of course, for many, relaxing means going back “home,” and summer is your chance to finally be back with family and friends not seen since the holidays or even before.

Dedicate a few hours to review

There's no getting around it: there's a lot to learn in order to pass the USMLE® Step 1 exam. You’re required to learn and master all of the Basic Sciences, which is two years' worth of information — no small feat. With one year down, this summer could be a great chance to go through notes, check out new resources, and do some reviewing while you have the time and space to do so. You don’t have to dedicate entire days to studying, but a little bit here and there will be enough to help you get a head start and develop solid habits.


Take part in a research project

Many students commit to paid research over the summer; it’s a way to build up your professional experience with work related to your field of study, plus earn some cash. And a number of universities do, conveniently, offer research fellowships and similar opportunities that fall during the summer months —even abroad. Best of all, the results of your work could be included in a published paper, something that can bring value to your resume as well as influence your residency application later on.

It should be noted, of course, that not everyone will find all research work meaningful. It could be the case that most of your time will be dedicated to digging through data. However, this wholly depends on the project and the research needed to carry it forward.

See someplace new

Summer can also be about having the time to travel and to finally visit the cities and countries you haven't been to yet. Even on a student’s budget, you can adventure to plenty of new places, get a new perspective on things and reset your brain just in time for M2 to begin. And your travel experience can be whatever you want it to be, either a chance for leisure or a chance to do some (research) work. Osose says, “What started out as a medical missions trip in Ecuador turned into a published paper, so it's always amazing when that's the way your summer turns out.”

How you decide to spend your summer vacation will ultimately come down to decisions based on your long-term career goals, personal desires, and the resources available. There are plenty of options to choose from to make your last summer ever more interesting and worthwhile. And there’s nothing stopping you from combining those options, too; you could get away for a week, come back to contribute to a research project, and review on the weekends in between. Remember, it’s your time off — make it what you want it to be.



Ready for your second year of medical school?

Retain and recall everything you learn with the AMBOSS add-on for Anki. You'll get pop-up medical explanations of key terms right there in your Anki flashcards. Try it today.