How to Spend Your Last Free Summer as a Medical Student

Chances are you might have some free time between when you match in March and when you start intern year in July. What’s the best way to spend that time?

I’ve thought back to my “in-between time” after my school-based medical education ended and my residency program began, and come up with a few things that really helped me. The ideas may not be groundbreaking—but I have tried to explain the ‘why’ behind them, so you get some insight into the best ways to maximize your moments.


I remember being on my medicine team as a third-year medical student. It was a slower day and we had everyone tucked in. Then my senior, a very laid back guy, took out his phone and started to show me photos of him traveling with his wife.

“Looks neat,” I told him. It did look like fun, but he was really into the photos. I didn’t quite understand what that vacation meant to him until I started residency myself. “You should take a trip before you start residency, man,” he said in a slow, calm voice. It was good advice.

The four years of medical school can take their toll, and not long after you finish that crazy ride you’ll match to a program and start another, even crazier one. The time in between allows you to stop thinking about rank order lists and clinical rotations, clear your mind, have some fun, and prepare for your residency position.

I severely underestimated just how tired I would be in residency. I’m not whining, I love what I do. Some days, though, I am almost too tired to be tired. And even my golden weekends I spend just recovering from all the other days. It is challenging to find quality time to spend with my friends and family, too.

I did follow his advice and traveled a bit. And, wow, does it mean a lot to me now. When I am sitting in the hospital at 3am every fourth night, I’ll take out my phone. When I’m flirting with 80 hours, stuffing myself with graham crackers and washing it down with cranberry juice, I’ll think about the trip I took before starting intern year. It gave me a clear mind and a fresh beginning. It was quality time I spent with my significant other. We began the medical residency adventure on a good note.

Chances are you already know about Kayak. There are two other sites I really like for travel planning on a budget. One is Momondo which recommends types of vacations and best times to go. When you go to ‘Discover,’ it recommends themes like beaches, nature, cities, unique stays, and road trips. The other site I like, that helps predict an airline price within 95% up to one year in advance, is Hopper.

Need some inspiration for some places that work on a budget? Take a look at these:

I’ll select the Jurassic Park theme please (Kauai, Hawaii)

Sometimes the views seem fancy and worldly, but this is just a simple staycation.

See family

One thing that I really rely on during residency is the support of my family. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. They are there when I need someone to call so I can stay awake driving home. They listen without judging when I rant a bit about a particular interaction in the hospital. They remind me that there is life outside the hospital. I can take my mind off things talking to them about the news and sports teams. They provide insights into who I was before going into health care—and help me maintain that person.

The time between med school and intern year is a perfect opportunity to spend quality time with them. I took full advantage of it. That meant going out to eat with them regularly. Taking time to sit down and talk. I gave them an update on what med school was like and what I was looking forward to in residency. It helped clear up my thoughts, too. Since my family is not in medicine they really appreciated me detailing all the new terms—intern, resident, fellowship, etc. as well as the application process itself.

The benefit does run both ways just a little—they like feeling clued in to my life. When graduation day comes around, they have the ‘inside take’ on the training program journey for the last few years.

And when they run across their friends they can give a succinct update. “Yes, he is a real doctor now. He’s graduated and the next step is residency for a couple of years. Then he’ll want to do a fellowship in that area and is looking to work in a private practice setting in this part of the country.”

Sometimes the family has a cute puppy.

Get in shape

I’m not going to explain the benefits of being healthy—we all know that! Rather, this section is about optimizing your energy level.

One thing I did in the few months before starting residency was get in shape a bit. I tried to ease into some healthier habits. Nothing too intense. For me it meant finding a recipe for a smoothie, drinking more water throughout the day, and finding time to exercise. Some days it was going to the gym, other days running, and sometimes biking outside. I also found a way to seriously cut back on caffeine exposure. My sleep improved and I was feeling a lot better day by day.

Why did I do this?

For starters, it established a routine I could mimic once intern year started. I thought it was better to work out the kinks when I was still in a familiar setting rather than trying to do it once I moved and had a whole new set of responsibilities.

I also wanted to hit the ground running on the first day of intern year. With good energy levels, I was able to actually stay awake during orientation and survive the first few days on the wards. It’s hard work to practice medicine, especially in the early years!

Lastly, I wanted to give myself a buffer. I knew that after working in really stressful situations and really long hours that I’d reach for more pizza instead of salad. More cola, please. And I’m ok with that. I had some wiggle room to gain some weight—and knew how to incorporate healthy habits—so I wasn’t too hard on myself.

Make the most of it

The countdown is on until you show up with a long white coat and badge that says ‘physician’… how will you spend the moments? Make them count, and set yourself up for a successful residency.

Thalamus is all about making the interview and match process as smooth as possible on both sides of the coin, candidates and programs. We hope that this blog makes post-match life a little better, too!