Starting Medical School – What To Do This Summer

I’ve had several new college graduates ask me what they should do this summer to prepare for medical school.    It’s easy – don’t worry about it!  There is no studying or preparation that will improve how you do.  Seriously, you’ve been accepted and you will do fine.  I know you are anxious, but I can absolutely guarantee you don’t need to study anything to get ready!  That being said, I do have some advice about what to do this summer:

Take a vacation (or two or three…).

  • Visit family and friends – take a road trip and connect with people you haven’t seen in a while
  • Hang out on a beach, go for some great hikes, read some great novels
  • Sleep late, eat well, and just rest

Develop (or strengthen) an exercise habit.

  • Use this summer to develop  a daily exercise routine that you can take into your busy medical school life.  Overall, your goal for the summer should be to develop a balanced exercise program (cardio, strength training and flexibility).  If you’ve never done any strength training, hire a trainer and learn about it.  Your goal during medical school should be at least 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 times/week, 2-3 strength training sessions (that cover all the major muscle groups) and stretching everyday.  If you develop a balanced exercise routine this summer, it will be much, much easier to continue this once you start medical school.
  • Commit to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day this summer.    Running is by far the best cardio exercise for medical students.  Use this summer to become a runner.

If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

Why You Should Run and How to Get Started

I hate running.  Whew.. that’s out of the way.  BUT – I have been a runner in the past, I live with a runner, and it’s absolutely clear to me that running is the ideal cardio exercise for medical students and residents.  So, I’m going to try to convince you that you should incorporate running – even in a very small amount – into your daily routine .

Why Running is Perfect for Medical Students and Residents

  • It’s cheap.  Other than an good pair of running shoes (and don’t buy less than good ones), there is no expense.
  • It’s portable.  A bag with your shoes, shirt and shorts can stay in the trunk of your car.
  • It’s social.  Once you identify a friend or two who agree it’s a good idea to run, you can do it together.
  • It’s efficient.  Short runs are still a great workout.  Unlike other workouts which require planning, travel and time to complete, you can walk out the front door and run.
  • It’s empowering.  You can set goals and easily accomplish them.  There are a lot of times during your training that you will feel things are out of your control. Setting a goal (I’m going to run a mile) and then doing it (Yeah!) is empowering.
  • It does more than just get you fit.  There are good data that show that exercise in general (and running in particular) decreases stress, improves depression, helps sleep, etc. etc.

How to get started

Here is a great guide for beginners from the New York Times that I recommend you read. Another qreat source is the most recent online Runner’s World guide on how to start running.  It’s hard to find now, but here are some tips from the Runner’s World May 2010 Special Beginner’s Guide:

  1. Don’t do too much to start with.  Start with walking and add in small amounts of running.  “Every able-bodied person can be a runner,” says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach based in New York City, :Just start slowly and build up gradually.”
  2. Be consistent.  Your goal is to exercise every day. Cardio is an important part of your exercise, but not all of it.  You can run every day, but you’ll have to find  time to do resistance and flexibility training as well.  Alternatively, you can view resistance days as “recovery” from running i.e. alternate the days. Commit to some kind of exercise everyday.  Plan your week to make sure you get at least 3-4 cardio sessions/week – and then cut yourself some slack if something happens that pushes you off track.  It’s human nature – if you say you are going to run every day, you’ll probably run 4 or 5 times.  But, if you say you’ll run 3 times a week, it will probably end up being only once.
  3. Read, ask questions, learn about this skill.  Every city has a “runner’s store” (which is different from a store than sells running shoes).  Ask the runner’s in your class where they go to buy their shoes.  The store will have shoes, but it will also have very knowledgeable people who will be delighted to help you learn about running.

How to fit it in and how to stay motivated

  • I know you don’t want to hear this, but early morning is the best time to run.  It’s an energizing way to start the day, you “get it out of the way”, and you don’t have to fight the siren song of the couch at the end of a long day.  If you do choose to run at the end of the day, change into your clothes before you leave school or the hospital and run before you get home.  If you have willpower of iron you might be able to lace up the shoes and run before you go to sleep … if it works for you, great!  (but it won’t for most people) .
  • Think about signing up for a fund raising group.  Running for kids with cancer makes you feel pretty silly about whining….
  • Register for a 5K race – having a goal to finish  (and getting your first time) will be motivating
  • “Gratitude is contagious.”  Kristen Armstrong suggests that instead of feeling like you “have” to run that you think about what a gift it is that you “get” to run.  “If you view your run as an opportunity, your attitude will get an adjustment”.