At this point, you may be questioning whether a gap year between completing your undergraduate education and beginning medical school is the best option for you. As someone writing this in my fourth year of medical school after taking two gap years, I could not have been happier with my decision. You will learn quickly that the learning curve in medical school will be high and that the idiom that medical school “is like drinking out of a fire hose” is the closest thing to describe the curriculum. Despite this, you will look back on your time in medical school and be humbled about the amount that you know and by the amount that is still left to learn. That being said, I am certainly of the opinion that the experiences acquired prior to medical school form the foundation with which you approach your medical education. With that perspective, what is an additional one or two years in the grand scheme of things?
I am of the opinion that everyone can benefit from a gap year though here are a few specific questions to focus on to determine if a gap year might be for you:
An extra year might be of the utmost importance in improving aspects of your overall application such as your MCAT score, volunteering or physician shadowing, or GPA. Having an extra year may help you dedicate time to each of these crucial elements of your application without having other academic obligations happening concurrently. In terms of improving upon your GPA, students may decide to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to demonstrate their candidacy for medical school.
Often, students may elect to take a year to pursue immersive and hands-on experiences within medicine or to pursue additional clinical research. For instance, in my own gap years, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist. While this year will give you additional time to explore your interests, it also offers an opportunity to decompress prior to beginning a rigorous medical education.
Do not feel guilty about this one – I think it is absolutely reasonable as well as can help to enhance maturity and overall preparation for medical school.
You may be asking “Well, won’t medical schools look down upon my gap year?” The answer to this question is that it depends. If you spent your gap year(s) improving upon yourself and your candidacy for medical school as well as are able to discuss your growth over this period, then no. This can reflect immensely positively on your behalf. Now, on the other hand, if you spent the gap year in your parents’ basement, only coming out for food and water, this could be questionable. My overall advice? Use your gap year wisely and to your advantage – I do not think you will regret it.
Here are some words from medical students of whom are not only from diverse backgrounds and opinions, but have been in your shoes deciding whether a gap year is best for them:
My gap year gave me the opportunity to acquire life experience that has matured me in more ways than expected. I worked multiple jobs as an occasional server in my hometown grill and crabhouse, babysat, aided a child with a physical disability, researched at the NIH, and worked as a pediatric therapy aide. These various jobs taught me more about interpersonal communication skills, empathy, and finance when compared with going straight into the depths (and debt) of medical school. I have even frequently been asked about my gap year experiences during residency interviews. It was ultimately my chance to live independently outside of academia, a first for me after living and breathing academics for all of my life. For me, there were not many downsides to doing a gap year - it made sense for me. It bulked my resume, but more importantly, it added so much more to my life.
During my gap years, I worked and supported myself independently, which offered real-world experience and a different perspective on the challenges everyday people face. If you have not been on your own before and held a job, you do not really understand how hard it is for people to make ends meet as well as the amount of hours that go into progressing in a career. Often, medical students come from backgrounds of which may not be representative of the patient population they are destined to treat. A gap year allows you the opportunity to learn life aside from medicine while working to afford everyday necessities without guaranteed money available. Overall, a gap year allowed time to mature and grow as a person while discovering my own identity.
I think one of the greatest benefits of a gap year is that you have time to relax and enjoy life before some of the hardest years of schooling. You have the opportunity to travel with friends, spend time with family, and do the things you might have put off because of how difficult and demanding the pre-medical track is. Yes, you also have time to work in the medical field or do research to spice up your resume, but I believe the true benefit is the time you are afforded to refuel the tank and enjoy life.
I took four years off after undergrad. I was able to travel, pursue other careers, and meet people outside of medicine that I would have never met otherwise. It may seem like you are going backwards, while everyone is moving on but taking a break is exactly what will give you the mental stability and longevity to succeed in medical school. Getting outside of medicine transiently is what will make you a more compassionate and understanding doctor. I would not change a thing.
Taking a gap year is great not only for your mental health, but also for enabling you to experience what life is like outside of medicine. I did a M.S. during this time. This gave me insight into the healthcare system and policy - something which I never would have learned had I jumped straight into medical school. The time off helped me realize there is so much more to healthcare than just pursuing a medical degree, and you will not know if it is the right fit until you get a taste of the real world. Education will never sell you short - it can only open more doors for you. My experience with this program and the lifelong friends I made along the way are something I will always cherish and be grateful for.
Taking a gap year was incredibly beneficial for me because during that year, I had the chance to really strengthen my clinical skills and knowledge that undoubtedly prepared me for medical school. I worked as a scribe and clinical assistant at a pain clinic where I learned how to write progress notes, obtain vital signs, and interpret lab results. I also had the opportunity to scrub in to watch epidural injections and placement of spinal cord stimulator devices. I found that the skills I learned during my gap year really prepared me clinically since I was evolving similar skills prior to matriculating to medical school. In my opinion, taking a gap year not only strengthens your candidacy for medical school but also prepares you clinically through learning evolving clinical skills and thinking critically.
A gap year can be an immensely powerful opportunity to improve upon yourself and your qualifications for medical school. I recommend exploring your own interests and doing the things you love. This may not only enhance your candidacy for medical school but your overall morale, confidence, and preparedness. In my instance, my two gap years allowed me the opportunity to improve upon my MCAT score, volunteering, and immersive experiences in pathology as well as allowed me the chance to meet some of my closest friends of whom have been foundational in my life. For those reasons, I am a proponent of a gap year, so long as you use it as a mechanism to improve upon yourself in multiple regards.