Your Guide as a Medical Student Next Summer

It can be tough to decide what you want to do as a medical student next summer. For me, the natural choice has always been research internships, for a few different reasons. First, I like that you get paid to work and that you get to experience what it’s like to be in graduate school. I also genuinely like research and find that the lab is a very fulfilling place to be (even when everything goes wrong). So, I have always done research. But this summer I am contemplating a few different options and the struggle to decide is very real! There are many considerations whenever deciding how to spend your time as a pre-medical or medical student. There are important considerations and not-so-important considerations. It can be challenging to decide what is important, both to you and to your future, and what is not important. This upcoming summer will be my last one while in undergraduate and last one before applying and interviewing (hopefully) for medical school. Here is my thought process for deciding what to do when there are too many wonderful options out there for students to choose!

The important decisions are those that revolve around your own satisfaction and happiness.

Will you be happy with the day-to-day expectations that your plans involve?

Are you doing this for yourself or for someone else?

If you received nothing out of this experience (such as something to add to your resume, a recommendation letter, or money) would you still do it?

Basically, would you volunteer for this experience?

The important decisions to me have evolved over the past three years. The “would this look good on my resume?” question has slowly been replaced with the “would I be happy doing this?” question. So first, no matter your options, decide what is important to you and frame your decision-making around satisfying those things that you consider important. Maybe write them down!


The not-so-important decisions are those that you haven’t considered above. Sometimes these can become camouflaged and appear important. Remember that they are not! For me, the not-so-important decisions have become about what others think I should do. While I cherish and value the advice from mentors, professors, friends, and family, ultimately, I will be the one going through the experience for 10-12 weeks over a summer so my thoughts on the decision should be weighed a little bit more than those around me. I had a really hard time with this, and continue to do so, because I want to make others happy as well as myself. The not-so-important decisions will be different for everyone. For me, getting paid is an important consideration so taking classes or doing costly study abroad programs are sometimes less important because of financial considerations. For others, this may not be the case. It is okay to think of yourself first when making these decisions. Remember what is not-so-important when thinking about what you should do with your time.

Finally, whether you are choosing between a study abroad, a basic science or clinical research internship, taking classes, or some other way to spend your summer, remember that this is your time. College is an incredible opportunity to spread your wings and experience something new and exciting. Last summer, I jetted off to London and Dublin to study public health and returned to a full-time position doing research I love. It was incredible summer that I created by remembering what is important to me and what I love to do. As I make decisions about the upcoming summer, I am having to go through the process all over again. I think most importantly you must remember to do what you love and the rest will fall in place.

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Mary Barber

Mary Barber studies Chemistry and English Literature at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. An average day for her includes running from microbiology lecture to having discussions on the writings of Nabokov to designing experiments in the lab – she says it’s a little crazy but always fun. Her passions (currently) include studying cardiovascular disease caused by cancer therapies, writing, and monthly dates baking cupcakes with cancer patients. One day when she grow up Mary hopes to be a physician researcher, treat patients with heart problems, write books, and do yoga every day.