By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising
Whether or not to take a class next summer is a common question among pre-health students this time of year. You're looking at your current workload as well as the demands of next year, including requirements for your major (and maybe minor). You're also looking at, perhaps fixedly, your grades in the pre-health curriculum thus far. Maybe combining General Chemistry and Calculus as a first-year was too ambitious. Maybe Orgo and Biology together is a tougher combo than you expected it would be. Is doing one of the required courses for health professional school over the summer a "Way Out"? Is it advisable?
I like to respond to that question with a question of my own: Isn't there something else you'd rather be doing? Nine times out of ten your answer is yes, and nine times out of ten my advice is, "then, well, do it." Gain patient-centered experience as a volunteer, pursue research in a lab or clinical setting, study abroad, explore a career other than medicine, get outside your comfort zone in some way and do something that will expand your thinking and develop your self-awareness. What would help you build strong interpersonal skills and an ethic of service—both excellent characteristics to possess in healthcare? What would motivate you to stick with the pre-health path?
Typically, health professional schools prefer that you do their required courses at your home institution (F&M) during the regular school year, as this method best simulates how heavy your course load will be as a first-year in their programs. However, there are a few exceptions to the “avoid summer coursework” rule. If you’re studying abroad during the school year and need to complete a requirement during the summer before you go, fine. Or if you didn’t begin with General Chemistry until sophomore year and are trying to complete all requirements before you graduate without taking Physics as a senior, also understandable. If your reasons for considering a summer course are other than these, please come see me sometime in the coming weeks and we can discuss your individual case.
I don't even remember what I did during my college summers. I may have coached kids in my favorite sport. I may have worked in a gift shop for the “environmentally conscious,” selling a lot of wind chimes and whale sound tapes. Somewhere along the way I did write part of a novel. And I remember sitting high above the courts at Wimbledon and even higher in the nosebleeds at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s been a while, and the years run together, so the details are sketchy. What I do recall, and what I have never regretted, is that I returned to my college campus in the fall excited to be a student again. As much as any student if not more so, pre-health students need to take breaths, and consider that burnout is very real. Don’t just check a box on your to-do list. Do something that recharges your batteries. The rigors of the pre-health curriculum aren’t going anywhere; they’ll be waiting for you when you get back.