How do I best make use of my fourth year of medical school?


Fourth year is going to be different from your other years of medical school, and you need to use this to your advantage. Re-calibrate yourself and spend time establishing your professional niche for your future career. Use this time to prepare for your residency, because you want to start off your residency training on the right foot. Take advantage of any opportunities your school has to prepare you for residency, and you may want to try some away rotations as well. Prepare yourself for your residency, but remember to take time for yourself. Do things that you personally enjoy and make sure you’re fulfilled. You don’t want to go into your residency burnt out!

It’s not a throw-away year / it’s a year to re-calibrate and rediscover yourself

Fourth year “feels” different… It’s more open than what you were used to in the first three years of medical school. It even feels a little anti-climactic to many students. It can seem like a “throw-away” or wasted year to many… However, the fourth year of medical school can be a blessing in disguise for many medical students. This is a year where things slow down to a more manageable pace. You will have the space to think strategically again.

There’s less formal guidance, which means that you will have to start guiding yourself. Think about the professional niche that you want to have in the future. Now is a great time to invest your effort on the things that will help establish your professional niche for the future. Perhaps you enjoy teaching; you can mentor and tutor underclassmen. Perhaps you always wanted to investigate a scientific issue; now is your time! Perhaps you wanted to learn about issues in healthcare; go get involved in projects you’re interested in. Most importantly, if there are some clinical skills you wanted to sharpen or experiences you wanted to have, go for it! Whatever you do, always remember that you’re getting ready for a huge next step of your medical school career – your residency…


How do I best prepare for residency?

You are going to be drinking from a fire hose (again) in residency… So you’ll want to make sure that you are fully prepared in terms of your clinical skills to begin your residency training on the right foot. Your school will likely have sub-internships, boot camps, or other clinical electives to help you prepare for residency. Take advantage of these opportunities.

You will also have opportunities during the fourth year to do away rotations. They’re sometimes called audition electives because you are “auditioning” yourself to the program(s) that you will very likely apply to, and they get a chance to see you in action. Doing well in these away rotations will obviously help your candidacy within that particular program.

Finally, although medical school is a sampling of many different specialties, your future career is very likely to be limited to one specialty. Rather than spending all of your electives on your future specialty, you may consider taking electives outside of your chosen specialty to develop a more holistic understanding of medicine. Whatever you do, don’t get burned out! You have a lot more years of intense study still yet ahead!


Don’t be burned out going into residency

This goes without saying but residency will be hard. Here’s another thing that should go without saying: you should not enter residency already burnt out. Therefore, you need to do what you have to do to restore your energy and to refill your gas tank. What is it that makes you, you? Do those things! For me, it’s travelling. For others, it’s going outdoors in nature. What is it for you? Do these things so you’re fulfilled, invigorated, and excited to learn!

This may also be a good time to think about family and friends. If there’s a trip that you’ve always wanted to take with family, perhaps this is a good time to do it? Don’t let this special fourth year of medical school go to waste!