You are probably reading this blog post because you now have some free time on your hands after the long process of applying to residency, completing interviews, filling out your rank list, and finally matching. At this point, you have finished all of your fourth-year clinical rotations and are waiting to graduate, or have already graduated from medical school. Congratulations for having made it this far! The free time most fourth year medical students have is unique in that there are no real academic responsibilities expected of you after completing your school’s requirements. The time off before starting residency can be used in many different ways depending on students’ needs. During this chunk of free time students typically rest and relax (which is important!) However, there are a lot of ways to use this precious time productively before residency starts.

1.Your bucket list

Are there any goals on your bucket list that you have had to put off due to the time constraints of medical school? Now may be your opportunity to start achieving some of your other personal goals before you become busy in your training. For example, you may have always wanted to take a solo trip to an exotic international destination, hit up every iconic restaurant in your favorite cities across the coast, learn to play an instrument, or re-read and re-watch all of your favorite books and movies. Now may be a great time to achieve some goals that may become harder later on in life; especially if you decide to settle yourself in a specific location, grow a family, take on more responsibilities as an attending, etc.

2.Connect with family and friends

Your family and friends are one of the most important support networks that you have. They likely cheered you on throughout medical school and will be there for you when it gets tough during residency. The responsibilities of a medical student can make it hard to find time to spend with your loved ones, often making some friends and family even feel neglected. Remind those close to you how much you care by reconnecting with them now that you have the time. That may mean scheduling a video chat with your grandma or taking a trip to see your old college friends. Do whatever you need to do to cultivate those strong relationships.

3.Start learning a new language

Maybe you already have done some cool things on your bucket list and have been keeping in touch with friends and family, but you want to challenge your brain in a different way besides studying in medical school. Have you thought about learning a new language? With the rising population of racial minority groups in the United States, you will likely be using a medical interpreter at some point in your career, if not in residency. Being able to speak the same language as your patients can greatly improve the quality of your patient interactions and help you establish greater rapport. Considering that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States after English, brushing up on your Spanish skills might be a good idea.

4. Establish your own self-care routine

The long, arduous hours of residency can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Given that burnout is a serious concern for medical professionals, it is important to think about how you plan to take care of your own wellbeing. You will need to find ways to balance your mental and physical health with the challenges of residency. Consider making a checklist of self-care habits that you can reliably do on a regular basis. Remember not to be hard on yourself to have the perfect routine. Doing just one self-care habit a day, but consistently, may be more realistic and beneficial than giving up and not doing anything at all! Establishing a sustainable self-care routine now can pave the way for a balanced, healthy lifestyle as an attending in the future. Below is an example of a self-care routine to help you get started!

Ideas for a self-care routine (varies by individual):

Daily:

  •       Sleep
  •       Exercise (walking outside, taking stairs in hospital, yoga, gym, etc)
  •       Drink water throughout the day
  •       Take a vitamin or supplement
  •       Meditation/prayer/mindfulness exercises
  •       Cook dinner at home
  •       Play with a pet
  •     Text/call a friend or family member
  •       Watch a show
  •       Read
  •       Listen to podcast during daily commute
  •       Personal grooming

Weekly:

  •      See friends and family
  •     Grocery shopping
  •      Meal prep
  •      Filling gas in the car
  •    Organize/clean your home
  •      Laundry

Monthly/Yearly:

  •     Car maintenance
  •      Doctor’s visits
  •    Dentist visits
  •      Vacation planning

5.Connect with your future residents

You might be both excited and nervous about starting residency but are looking forward to the amazing people you will be working alongside as co-residents. Starting residency with familiar faces can help ease the transition for everyone. Consider starting a texting group with your class or even planning to meet up for a group outing if anyone is already in the area.

6.Residency Paperwork and Logistics

Although planning logistics is not always fun, it is important to think about serious aspects of starting residency, such as finding a place to live, figuring out transportation (getting a car or learning about public transportation options), budgeting and finances, and completing residency on-boarding and licensing paperwork.

7. Research

Doing research during your time off as a fourth-year medical student before starting residency can also be a productive activity, although this is not common. Perhaps you are passionate about a research topic and want to start a new project or continue working on a previous project, or you want to pursue a competitive fellowship and would like to start early building your experiences in that specialty. Whatever the reason may be, it is possible to get in touch with the research faculty at your institution and let them know of your interests if you are so inclined. However, if you do not start working on a research project now, it does not mean you will be missing out on future opportunities, as there is plenty of time ahead!

8. Step 3 Preparation

After finishing Step 2, you might have erased from your mind the notion of ever taking such a long and difficult exam ever again. Unfortunately, the reality is to become a fully licensed physician in the United States, you must complete the Step 3 exam at some point during residency. The earliest one can take Step 3 is after having graduated medical school. Therefore, if you have the Step exam blues and miss studying, you could technically start preparing for Step 3 now and even take the exam before or in the beginning of your intern year to get it done early.

That is a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this article and were able to extract useful pieces of advice to help you use this time before residency to the fullest potential. Congratulations on getting this far! You should be very proud of yourself for such an amazing accomplishment. 

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