Internships are great. You get to put real work experience on your resume, have a resource when you need a recommendation letter, and sometimes even earn some cash to help pay off your student loans. Being honest, the most important point is that extra cash.

But what about the much more common unpaid internship? Is it still worth it? 

I got a chance this summer to intern as an Emergency Department Research Assistant (EDRA). It entails enrolling patients in research studies in the ED. It might sound simple, but at the end of the day you’re still working in the ED with direct patient contact. There are barriers of training to go through before you can set foot in the ED, and then even more once you’re in. 

The experience was great. It’s not every day you can work in the emergency room. Just being amongst doctors and nurses in the ED is a push that you pre-med students might need to launch into your career, or help students on the fence about their careers make a final decision. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to save lives as a doctor or by advancing medical research. After this experience, I know I’m interested in pursuing a career in medicine, and research is my passion. The medical environment is not for everyone, and it would suck to realize that after going through all the work for pre-med and med school. Thankfully, hours working as an EDRA counts as both clinical and research hours, for those of you thinking about med school.

The internship did have its downsides. Although we were performing the same work as the actual EDRAs, we were never paid for it, which I thought was unfair.. Another problem with having no salary is that for those not local to the area, we had expenses like rent, food, and utilities. So we had to take on another job to pay the bills to be able to work unpaid in the ED. It took a huge toll on me. As soon as I got out of my day job, I’d hop straight to the ED for my night shift. I was essentially working 13 hours a day. And for all the stress you have to deal with in the ED? Part of me thinks the internship wasn’t that worth it for the benefits I got back.

Part of the reason I took the internship is that I didn’t want to be a couch potato over the summer. There is an undeniable culture that says “running yourself into the ground is the only indication of a hardworking student,” and it doesn’t go away when school lets out. I half-regret — and half don’t — my choice. The ED experience was great. But working 13 hours a day and not getting paid for four and dealing with the stress? That wasn’t summer.

It’s easy to hear about your friends doing this and that and start questioning your life choices. Some peer pressure is good — it keeps us on our toes, striving to achieve things. But it’s good to let loose and take a break once in a while. Sure, you can take summer classes to get ahead. Sure, you can do research or an internship to pad your resume.

But the mind is not separate from the body, and you should be aware of your mental health. While physically you may feel fine, that stress that’s built up in the school year is still there and will burst at any moment if you don’t let some out. Now that I’m out of the internship and day job, I’m wiped out. 

My advice: do your thing, take classes, apply to those internships, but make sure to leave at least a month to destress. Don’t end up like me, feeling tired and stressed after the majority of the summer, with only 3 weeks to destress. I will be coming back to class still slightly tense.

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