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Getting Into Medical School: How to Spend Your Leisure Time

In this lesson, I’m going to talk about how to use your leisure time and your summer vacations as you prepare yourself for medical school.

Summer is that time of year that just sprawls out in front of you. When you’re a kid, it seems gigantic and it is if you compare it to the length of time people get for vacations in the real world. In today’s world, summer is a time for many college students to work and save enough money to attend school in the fall. That may include two jobs and little free time. So much for summer vacation, huh?

If you have absolutely no free time in the summer, this lesson may seem like it is not of much use to you, but it really is. You may just have your free time-shifted to other times of the year or broken into smaller pieces. For example, some of my students are forest firefighters in the summer, but they have winter breaks pretty much open. Whenever you get your free time, keep the advice in this talk in mind.

I tell each of my pre-med advisors that his/her path through the university is unlike that of any other student. I mentioned that in the first lesson, but I want to elaborate more on it now. Everyone knows that competition for medical school is intense and everyone is looking for an advantage that will boost their candidacy. This is what gives rise to GPA chasers that I’ve discussed and people who create and follow large activities lists.

What you as a pre-med student need to be aware of is that these people, through their almost obsessive actions have helped to set an expectation bar very high. Don’t believe it? Look at the online application for allopathic schools, which expects you to list 15 significant activities you have engaged in by the time you apply.

As I indicated in an earlier lesson, you should not be obsessing about a checklist of activities, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved in activities. Far from it. When will you be pursuing said activities? That would be in the “free time” that I defined in the second lesson. You’ll have some free time during the school year, but if you’re a typical student, you’ll have a lot more in summer. This is the time you should be actively engaging and the time to plan it is long before the summer arrives. Don’t worry, you’re using your planner, right?

The expression “free time” is a misnomer for pre-med students. A good pre-med doesn’t really have any. As I tell my students, if you find yourself with nothing to do, just remember that your competition is probably engaging in meaningful activities. When you’re doing nothing, they’re getting ahead and you’re falling behind. That sounds a little scary, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the good news. If you followed my earlier advice about only pursuing things that interest you, staying engaged in these activities should be quite pleasurable. Trading free time for pleasurable activities is a no-brainer. It’s not like you’re going to work in a job you hate. Nevertheless, pre-med students should expect that their free time, whether during the school year, Christmas break, spring break, or summer is going to be taken up by activities all the way up until preparations begin for the MCAT.

So you’re going to kiss goofing off goodbye in one way or another and if that seems awful, I recommend you give some serious thought to your career choice. The life of a doctor is such that unstructured free time is a pretty rare commodity. If you’re not willing to give it up now, you’re not going to be happy later.

Now that we’ve got that behind us, what kinds of activities should you be thinking of for your free time and summers? Well, the elephant in the room is a medical experience. The sooner you get going on that and keep it going, the better off you will be. It is important, though, that you have other activities in addition that are completely independent of medicine. Applicants whose only interests and activities are medical are perceived as dimensional and you remember that doctors are three dimensional, right?

You should, of course, do things you’re interested in. These might be working with student clubs, campus leadership, political campaigns, volunteering at soup kitchens, blood drives, etc. All too often, pre-meds don’t use their imaginations in their activities. How about the Audubon Society? Beach cleanup? Tutoring? Big Sister/Brother programs? City council? United Way? Meals on Wheels? There are hundreds of programs and activities in any community that could use you and your time for the greater good and they’re out there waiting for you. Ask if your institution has a volunteer coordination office. These offices usually have lists of volunteer opportunities and the time commitment for each, so you can pick one that appeals to you and fits with your schedule.

One last piece of advice in closing. Don’t wait for activities to come to you. Plan ahead. People without plans for their free time may end up spending it binge-watching TV or otherwise wasting it. Your plan should have specifics about times/dates when certain activities will be done and also activities that are flexible on start dates so they can be begun whenever you have free time.

So, in this lesson, we’ve begun to define how the free time you have is going to be occupied as you prepare for medical school. Free time will be taken up by gaining medical experience and important other experiences related to your interests. Free time is like the paycheck of a person with no savings—you’re going to spend it as soon as you get it. Hopefully, you’ll have something great to show for it.

In the next lesson, I’ll discuss how to plan for the MCAT and your application.

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Written by

Kevin Ahern

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