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How to Make the Most of Your MS4 Spring

  • by Amanda Tosi, MD
  • Jan 23, 2024
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

Congratulations! You made it! Application season is over and you’re awaiting Match Day with baited breath. At this point, you’re wrapping up graduation requirements and finishing your last hospital rotation. It’s been an incredible journey, and now the wide open calendar from February to June is like a whole new frontier. Hopefully you’re excited by this free time and newfound flexibility!

At the same time, you may find the lack of structure during 4th year to be a bit unsettling. It may even induce some anxiety. What is it you’re supposed to be doing during this period of transition?

To help you navigate the uncertainties that come with finishing up medical school, let’s talk about some great ways to spend your time during fourth year spring.

The following suggestions are in no particular order. Pick and choose what speaks to you. Fourth year is your own adventure!

Here’s some ideas for what to do as you wrap up med school.

10 Ideas for What to Do During 4th Year Spring

1. Invest in a sustainable hobby.

Hopefully, you kept up with a hobby throughout medical school as a form of escapism. Whether it was pickup soccer, pottery events with friends, a weekly Bachelor watch party, or just playing fetch with your dog, I hope you invested in something that helps you relieve stress.

Now it’s time to dive deeper. Your schedule during clinical rotations was erratic, preventing you from committing to something on a weekly basis. Those days are behind you! Step it up and join a soccer league, take a weekly pottery class, or foster a dog for a few months.

With the freedom to invest more consistent time and energy into what you love, you’re likely to leave medical school more committed to your hobbies than you were when you came in, which is an impressive feat! This will rejuvenate you in the lull between the rigor of medical school and residency.

My Personal Hobby: Dancing!

You may even develop a new hobby which sustains you in residency, like learning how to knit a blanket, master a cookbook, or channel your stress into woodworking and crafting beautiful gifts for people. For example, I’d wanted to learn salsa dance all through medical school, but never had the chance to dive in between COVID restrictions and my clinical schedule.

Suddenly, I was free to go to classes and social events several times a week, without the pull of shelf exams or night shifts. I decided to take advantage of my last opportunity for a student membership at the local dance studio. During the last months of medical school, I learned the basic steps (and more importantly, the confidence) needed for various dance styles. Unexpectedly, I also found a great community of people outside of medicine who could take my mind off of the looming anxiety about Match Day, moving, and starting residency.

I’m so thankful for the time and effort I committed to this in my MS4 year because as a resident, I’ve continued to dance. I don’t have the schedule flexibility to attend weekly classes anymore, but since I learned the basic moves over a dedicated few months, I show up to social dances once or twice a week and dive right in.

The music, the community, the exercise, and the artistic nature of it all breathes life into me after a hard week in the hospital. And I have my med student self to thank for that!

2. Rejuvenate your relationships.

Of course you want to spend time with your loved ones before the whirlwind of residency begins, but my suggestion here goes a bit deeper. Make it known to your loved ones that you appreciate the time and effort they’ve made to accommodate your busy schedule as a medical student.

They probably compromised on celebrating Christmas a few days late because you worked the holiday shift. They accepted you missing some family outings over spring break because you were also studying for Step. Let them know this implicit support was instrumental to your success in medical school.

Now is the time to let your loved ones know you’re in a special period of your training and you have a lot of flexibility. Remind them that you’re committed to being a good friend, partner, aunt, daughter, etc. Take a road trip to visit that friend whose wedding you couldn’t make because you were on your surgery rotation. Plan a surprise weekend with your partner who has supported you through the ups and downs of medical school. Visit your grandparents even if the flight times are terrible, because you have time to be inconvenienced now. Let go of your inner drive for efficiency and optimization!

Ultimately, let people know you appreciate them. You may have asked for a lot during medical school and felt guilty about your inability to give equal time, energy, effort, etc. Now is the time to be the generous, flexible one! Even a phone call giving your undivided attention can go a long way to reignite a friendship.

3. Don’t study!

You’ve heard from all of your resident friends that you shouldn’t spend your fourth year spring studying for intern year. I’m in 100% agreement. You can’t prepare for intern year—I know that sounds scary and intimidating on its face, but try to view it as a form of pre-residency freedom.

The truth is, most of what you learn in the first six months is how the hospital works. You’ll learn how to place orders, request consults, admit & discharge patients, who to page when things go awry, and a thousand other skills you acquire by doing rather than studying.

This can be hard to accept as a student who has studied their way to success for the past several years. Trust the process. You’ll be amazed how much you’ve learned when the new interns come in at the beginning of your resident year.

Until you settle into that hard-won confidence, you’ll experience some imposter syndrome. Give this article a read for some tips on how to process those feelings as they inevitably arise.

4. But if you must study…

If you must do something to quell your anxiety about intern year, I recommend you pick one thing to commit to. This should not be a goal to re-read First Aid, Pathoma, or dive back into practice questions. The days of studying the same book content as your peers are behind you. Think of something practical for your chosen specialty and spend no more than an hour each day on it.

As an internal medicine resident, I do wish I’d reviewed EKGs in my fourth year because reading EKGs is not a skill emphasized in medical school but it’s very important in daily practice for many physicians (particularly emergency, internal, and family medicine). Buying a practice booklet and going through a handful of tracings everyday would’ve been helpful, especially if I’d found some like-minded friends to practice with over a beer.

Apply this same mindset to your future specialty. If you’re going into surgery or OB/GYN, buy a practice suture kit and brush up on skills while you watch your favorite TV show. If you’re going to be a psychiatrist, find some interesting books to read about different types of therapy.

Whatever you decide to commit your daily hour to, don’t let yourself fall into the old habits of practice questions and flashcards. Train yourself to study not for exams but for taking care of patients.

And most importantly, don’t make it a drag! Be flexible about when and how you do it. If you skip a day or several days, be okay with it. And if you quit altogether because you’re good and tired from the treadmill of medical school, no worries. Embrace this unique time in your career where nothing is expected from you.

5. Pick a journal to peruse.

An alternative to the “study suggestions” above is to pick a journal in your specialty and read a few articles every week. Ask your friendly school librarian which journals you can access for free.

The content of what you learn is not as important as getting into the routine of reading a journal. In medical school, you learned the physiology and pathology of the human body mostly through memorization. You then applied this knowledge to practice questions which demanded a certain level of critical thinking and discernment.

While those things are useful, they’re entirely different from reading a journal article probing a specific clinical question. You must have the foundational knowledge and background to understand the study and the data analysis. And you have to ultimately apply what you learn to daily patient care. This is a skill honed over decades of time in medicine, but if you feel the need to do something academic during your fourth year spring, I’d recommend reading a journal as a casual but worthwhile endeavor.

6. Do some traveling.

Travel can take many forms. While it’s great to take a once in a lifetime trip to Asia as you wrap up medical school, this is beyond the financial reach of many. There are likely many fun places and activities in your own state that you neglected to explore during medical school.

See what kinds of day or weekend trips are in your area that pique your interest. I also believe in a good “staycation” that revolves around trying new local restaurants or museums!

7. Get some work experience.

Working can be a great way to spend your free time as long as you don’t go overboard. (Remember, many long weeks of residency are ahead of you!) The logical pathway is to get a paid tutoring gig through your school or with a company like Blueprint. I made great money in my last few months of medical school as a Step tutor. I also built up some useful teaching skills and kept my knowledge fresh.

Also, don’t feel like you have to do medical jobs. This could be a fun time to try something entirely different. After all, you’ll do medicine for the rest of your life. Restaurant work typically attracts a fun, young crowd that you’ll enjoy working with. Plus, there’s good tips!

Bartending is another fun way to be social and learn a cool skill at the same time. If you end up working in the spring, try not to go crazy with your hours. Intern year will have you working hard and you should enjoy your free time until then.

8. Do some master meal preparation.

In residency, it can be hard to get enough sleep, find time to exercise, and eat well. Outside of our social connections, those things are probably the most important factors in feeling good on a day-to-day basis.

Regular exercise and adequate shut-eye can be hard to achieve due to erratic call schedules. However, eating well is something you can do with regularity. It just requires a little planning.

Fortunately, fourth year spring is a great time to try out some recipes for meal prep. Plan on making a meal that yields four or five dinners. Then freeze half of the food to eat at a later date so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing all week.

After a while, you’ll have a fridge full of homemade, healthy dinners mixed with a few nights of whatever you prepared fresh for the week. Having practiced a few of these meals prior to residency will ease the mental burden of brainstorming healthy options during tough rotations.

9. Write a budget.

Hobbies, travel, and sleeping in are all wonderful ways to spend your time. But there are a few more serious tasks to attend to before your intern year. I recommend researching the PGY-1 salaries of your top-ranking programs. Then, take the lowest salary and create a budget around it. 

Conventional wisdom is to spend 50% on needs (rent, transportation, food, internet, electricity, insurance), 30% on wants (restaurants, concerts, travel, gifts, hobbies), and 20% on savings/investment (retirement, general savings, and paying down student loans). This is known as the “50-30-20” rule.

While this is a good guideline for the general population, it’s really tough for most residents to spend only 50% on living expenses and still be able to put 20% toward building wealth. Most residents live close to the hospital, often in major cities, and that makes life expensive for a few years. It often leaves little—if any—money to be saved, which is okay in the short term.

The more important piece is understanding how to live within your means and to know where your money is going each month. It’s best to project this out before intern year starts and you have many more things on your mind.

Remember, once you have the framework down (ideally in spreadsheet form) it will be easy to tweak later on after you’ve moved. It’s also a good time to beef up your financial education. There are many podcasts and books geared towards beginners and specifically for med students/residents.

10. Figure out your student loan plan.

Though a lot of your student loan plan can’t be enacted until after you graduate and/or are employed by the hospital (such as consolidating loans & enrolling in PSLF), it’s great to have a plan written out before the time comes. Read this and other articles about how student loans work. (Dr. Ben White is a neurologist and one of the most well-respected and prolific writers on student loans in the field. Check out his free guide.)

Talk to your loan servicer and the financial counselor at your medical school. Discuss with trusted family members what your long-term plan will be for paying off the loans, while keeping in mind that decisions you make down the line regarding further specializing, working in academics vs. private practice, and other factors may change your goals.

When the time comes for you to act on your plan, you’ll be a new intern adjusting to a new place, new people, and new work. You’ll be thanking your former self for having all your ducks in a row!

Further Reading

Whether you end up doing all of these activities in your golden months or none of them, I wish for you to have the most rejuvenating and enjoyable springtime imaginable. You’ve certainly earned it!

Looking for more (free!) tips from Blueprint tutors? Check out these other posts on the Med School blog:

About the Author

I'm originally from the Northeast but attended college and medical school in Virginia. I just started residency in Internal Medicine this past year and am enjoying tutoring with Blueprint in my free time! I have always felt drawn to mentoring, especially when it comes to helping students like me who have no family in medicine to guide them. Now as a tutor at Blueprint, I’ve spent hundreds of hours teaching students at all levels. I think a lot about medical education and am excited to share my reflections on all things medical school and residency. In practice, I enjoy general medicine and as a bilingual physician find it especially rewarding to care for Spanish-speaking patients. When I’m not in the hospital, I enjoy salsa & bachata dancing, traveling to South America, dogs, and spicy food.