The “S.A.D” Days of September In Medical School – Why this is the hardest stretch of the year!

This is about to be one of the hardest yearly stretches of your medical training. Seriously. Every year its the worst. I’m calling it the post-Labor Day “S.A.D.” Days of September or a medical rip off of seasonal affective disorder. It certainly is a difficult seasonal experience that medical students of each year share. Why is this stretch of the year the hardest?



If you are just starting medical school, things are about to get serious. You probably started in mid-August and after this holiday weekend your first major exam block is likely just around the corner. It may even be this week. You probably spent most, but not all, of the weekend studying. You may have made it to a family function, or may have missed time with friends studying. If you spent it studying, you are probably sad to have missed time with others. If you spent time with friends/family, you are probably going to quickly be feeling guilty for not studying more. As the stress of the first exams looms, those feelings are only going to intensify. You thought you’ve been though difficult study times in undergrad, but around this time of the year it really hits you. You’ve now gotten your feet wet in medical school and are beginning to realize just how hard and demanding the next 4 years of your life are going to be.

For the 2nd year and more seasoned medical students, you probably had some sort of summer break. It’s over now and suddenly it’s back to the rigorous book work that made the first year such a grind. Hopefully you did a little clinical work/shadowing experience during your summer break. This is great for the soul, and can reinvigorate your study habits as a reminder that medicine isn’t all just studying in a library. But now that Labor Day is over – that study grind is basically all you are going to be doing until the next major holiday break. Oh, and a glance at the calendar reminds you that its a long way to Christmas.

If you are in the 3rd year of medical school, you likely were in clinical rotations most the summer. Now Labor Day has past and you realize that without your usual summer break, you’ve now barely realized there was a summer at all. Also, for the first time in your life, you likely had at least some clinical duties on a major holiday weekend such as 4th of July or Labor day. Welcome to medicine – if you aren’t working one holiday, you are working them all. What a bummer.

If you are in your 4th year of medical school, you are probably completely freaking out about now. ERAS and residency application deadlines are looming closer each day. Residency interviews will soon follow. Residency specialty and placement are only THE most important decisions of your life. It determines your income, lifestyle, location, as well as effects your personal relationship/love life. It can make or break relationships depending on what piece of paper is handed to you on match day. Everything about the next 3-7 years of your life, is on one piece of paper. And what you do NOW is going to lead to that moment. What a ton of pressure.

But alas, my medical students followers, hope is not lost. The first step of the problem is admitting there is a problem right? Yes, this part of the year S U C K S. It’s ok to uncomfortable and anxious as you settle in life as a first year. It’s ok to be disappointed to be back to the study grind as a second year. It’s ok to feel unsure of yourself on clinical rotations as a 3rd year and missing having a true summer break for the first time. And guess what 4th years? It’s ok to feel the pressure of such a huge desicion.

During this time of year, try to keep your head up and eyes on the prize. Theres a reason you are in medical school. You are smart enough, dedicated enough, and determined enough to make it through. Focus on the parts of medical school you do enjoy. Spend time with and lean on friends for support. Find small amounts of time to do the things you have always enjoyed – whether its a night out at the movies, hitting the gym, or even heading out for a night on the town. Medical school consumes most of your life, but it never has to and shouldn’t consume all of it! This time of year is ROUGH but it too shall pass. Each year of medical school gets better than the last.

And 4th years – once you finish residency interviews – the rest of this year is a breeze. You’ve made it, now enjoy it. There is light at the end of the tunnel (even if that light is an incoming train called residency, ha ha). And when it comes to that piece of paper on match day and the impact it has on your life – trust me, it all works out. You will make the best of where ever you go and it will eventually feel like it was all meant to be. And even further down the road? Picking a residency doesn’t end up even seeming that monumental years later.  As for the rest of 4th year – if you are wondering if you should keep pushing yourself hard medically or cash in the rest of the year for fun – read my other post on that subject:  4th Year of Med School: To go all out or coast to the end? 

Best wishes to you all.

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