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What Should You Be Doing With Your Summer Break?

The majority of students will have a long summer break from June-September, and while it can be very tempting to just relax for this time, it can also be important to maintain some productivity. Let’s go through how I spend my summer breaks, the reasoning behind it, and how I would recommend other’s divide their valuable holiday time.

With the end of the academic year comes several things:

  • Waiting for exam/module/year results
  • Worrying about the start of the next academic year
  • Working out what I’m going to do with myself over the coming weeks of summer break

Lets break that list down a little.

Waiting for results

My last deadline for the Bachelors of Science in Imaging Sciences I was studying this year was on the 18th June (Yay!). However, due to increased clinical demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still to receive the grades back from our essays in February! The university has set an internal deadline of the 31st July for degree awards, so I still have a month of waiting!

Starting my next academic year

The first lessons of the fourth year of my medical degree start on the 24th August. I will have a single week of (online) lectures, after which I plunge straight into my first placement of the year. I’ll be starting at Guys and St Thomas’ hospital trust, initially in the Women’s Health department.

Why am I worrying? Because I haven’t done any clinical skills for 12 months!

So over the next two months I plan on revising clinical skills, the previous learning on women’s health and some neonatal medicine… Wish me luck!

How should I be spending my summer break?

This is a conversation I have to have with myself every year, and it goes a little something like this:

This year I have x number of weeks between my last assessment of this academic year and the first day back of the next academic year. Last time I had a break like this I spent much of it working, and everyday I was working I wished I was just chilling out. Maybe this year I should just do nothing with the time. No plans. No work. Just chilling.

And every year I have to remind myself…

I HATE being bored, just cannot stand it. I’ll get agitated and annoyed, snapping at people around me as if it’s their fault I’ve not given myself something to do. Also, I really like having the financial freedom and independence that working the whole summer grants me for the following 10 months if the academic year.

Then another voice chimes in:

You’re a medical student! You should be spending this time learning, improving your portfolio, conducting research or getting published. Show those future employers you are committed and eager to learn!

So, every summer of my time at university, of which 2020 will be my fifth, I compromise and split my summer into an academic portion, an economic portion and a relaxed portion.

What have the last couple summer breaks looked like?

In 2018 this took the form of: 6 weeks working 40 hrs in a coffee shop and bar; 3 weeks in Brazil on a summer school studying Autopsy Pathology with Radiological Correlations; 3 weeks spent with my family and girlfriend chilling in London and Cornwall.

The summer of 2019 looked a little like this: 6 weeks paid internship at St Thomas’ Hospital researching the use of machine learning in the diagnosis and management of atrial fibrillation using cardiac MRI; 6 weeks of working as a science teacher, running science camps for children aged 4-13 years old 5 days a week; 4 weeks hanging out in (again) London and Cornwall

There was a plan in place for this summer, pre-Covid. My fiance and I were going to travel Europe for 6 weeks. Starting in Portugal, in July, we were going to move east, through to Malta, where my family from Australia were supposed to meet us. The plan was to finish in Greece in August and then fly home to London just before the start of my academic year.

Obviously this plan has changed.

My summer 2020 plans currently look a little like this:

  • Revise content and clinical skills for August start date (academic)
  • Volunteer with the Becoming a Doctor Organisation, including help to organise and facilitate the National Health Careers Conference (this year the Virtual Health Careers Conference [VHCC]) (academic)
  • Work as part of the Steering Committee for the Faculty of Digital Health
  • Work throughout the week as an A Level and medical admissions private tutor (economic)
  • Spend my evenings and weekends with my fiance in our new home! (Which happens to also be my old home, because we have just moved back into my Mum’s house!) (relaxed)

So, what should you be doing over your summer break?

That is entirely up to you I’m afraid. However see below for my suggestions of things you could be doing across each of the summer breaks as an aspiring medical student or a current student.

Current students:

  • Let’s be honest here, medicine is hard and we all need a break from it. We don’t ever get this over the Christmas break because of January exams, and often don’t get any holiday at all at the Easter break, leaving the summer as prime-chilling-time.
  • If, like me, you need to be doing something, why not apply to work an online tutor. The grades that got you into medical school will qualify you to teach at least GCSE level in most subjects, and you can earn up to £45.00 an hour very quickly. Be wary of paying to ‘Boost’ your profile on many of the tutoring agencies unless you know someone who has previously used this function successfully. I would recommend using SuperProf, I’ve been getting a tonne of work through this platform using the Premium feature recently and would really recommend it. You get a whole month of free premium membership when you sign up. I’d really appreciate it if you signed up using my link here, which gives me a cheeky month of premium for free if you post an advert! I’m also happy to endorse you as a tutor on SuperProf if you drop me a message through the contact page!
  • You can read this post to find out more about working while studying medicine.
  • Internships – LinkedIn is the go-to place to find internships outside of your institution, I regularly see 4 or 5 different opportunities every day on my home feed. Otherwise, I would recommend checking your university websites for research internship opportunities. Many internships are paid (often at or below minimum wage, but it can help to cover costs) and there are lots of virtual internships you can take up remotely too, especially this year.

Aspiring medical students:

  • I’ve already written a whole post on virtual work experience, volunteering and other opportunities here. Also, July and August is when UCAT revision should be taking place, so make sure to be on top of your preparation! You can view my whole medschool application timeline here, if you are struggling to work out what you should be doing when.

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Connor is a medical student at King’s College London. For the 19/20 academic year he is undertaking an intercalated iBSc in Imaging Sciences, also at King’s.

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