As surprising as it sounds, the summer after MS1 year is the last one medical students will have free for awhile. The time after MS2 year is busy with USMLE Step 1/COMLEX Level 1 exams, and MS3/MS4 is generally taken as one monolithic block.
For many students who desire to stay busy, research is both the most accessible and relevant option to pursue. Previous experience is a boon, of course, but many students do end up starting their research careers here. For those desiring something more relaxing, medical mission trips, volunteering, or board preparation are all great options.
Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of your MS1 summer:
What do I need to know about research during MS1?
The optimal time to start looking for research opportunities is spring of MS1 year. The benefit of starting early, even part-time, is in getting acquainted with the PI, lab personnel, lab techniques, and project scope so you’re ready to hit the ground running once summer starts. Many schools have internships, fellowships, and other programs available for medical students to apply to.
Be sure to start early on those applications–some might require letters of recommendations! It can also be a good idea to speak with your basic science faculty to see if they have openings in their labs. Outside your institution, there are many opportunities available across the country, including at the National Institute of Health. Just keep in mind you will likely have to find your own room and board.
Research can broadly be separated into two major categories: bench and clinical. Bench research involves laboratory techniques and tries to answer questions about subjects, such as disease mechanisms, biochemical pathways, receptor specificities, and enzyme kinetics. Clinical research involves working with patients and tries to answer questions about drug safety, drug efficacy, disease mortality, and disease risk factors. Hopefully, you can find research in an area of personal interest that also relates to your desired specialty. That said, both avenues of research are valuable when it comes to residency applications, especially if you can get published.
What should I know about medical missions and volunteering?
There are even more opportunities for medical missions and volunteering, both inside and outside the country. However, there are many things to consider before going on one of these trips though. For instance, make sure you know what you will be allowed to do–a mission trip isn’t much fun if all you can do is shadow a physician.
Are you going on a trip just so you have something to put on your application? Program Directors are aware of medical mission tourism, so it may be more fruitful to participate in an activity that resonates strongly with your interests and can be continued past the summer. Nevertheless, with volunteering, the world is your oyster. Just keep in mind the early bird gets the worm, so do your research and get everything prepared months in advance.
Even a year away, students worry about doing well in board examinations. Most begin studying during the second half of their MS2 year in preparation for the ‘dedicated’ study period after classes end. However, there’s no harm in reviewing the vast amounts of information learned in first year and preparing for concurrent board and class study the next year.
Luckily, Kaplan has you covered, with prep classes that start anytime and top-notch resources to aid in understanding the material and practicing board questions. Getting started early and doing recurring reviews contributes to ‘spaced repetition’, which is one of the most effective ways to commit information to memory.
In the end, the most important thing is wanting to do the summer activity you’ve chosen. After all, it is one of the last pieces of free time you’ll get in medical school. Whether you choose to do research, volunteer, study for boards, or just take some personal time off, make sure you enjoy yourself, and come back to campus refreshed and ready to learn.