As graduation approaches, seniors have been discussing their plans regarding their post-graduate life. Many have been accepted into graduate school, or have secured jobs at prestigious companies, and talk excitedly about their next step into adulthood. We celebrate those that have secured a plan for the upcoming years. But we dread when the eyes turn to us. “I’m taking a year off and applying to medical school” does not suffice. The response answers no questions, and, ultimately, it makes us feel unaccomplished.
Taking a year or two off between college and medical school is not uncommon. Your gap year should be eye-opening and confirm all the reasons why you wanted to pursue a career in medicine (and the reasons why you wouldn’t want to do anything else). It should be a time for you to rest and take a well-deserved break before entering the whirlwind that is medical school, residencies, and life.
If you’re applying this cycle, then you should use your gap year wisely! Most applications and/or interviews want to hear that you’ve been making use of your time and gaining necessary experience. Here are some potential options:
Research. If you didn’t conduct research in a laboratory in undergrad, now is definitely the time to consider finding a lab position to expand your resume. It’s often difficult to find a research position for a short period of time, but there are many summer internships available for you to try it out and possibly extend on into the year.
GPA boost. Often, pre-med students struggle to maintain a high GPA for your application. Perhaps you performed poorly in some of your undergrad classes. You have the opportunity to retake those classes in community college to raise your GPA and also to prove to the admission committee that you are more than those C’s in chemistry! Time can also be spent completing a master’s degree/post-bacc. This is a great way to prove that you can handle the higher level classes that you would take in medical school.
Clinical Experience. This is definitely the best way to find out if medicine is right for you. There are many paid/volunteer jobs in healthcare that can show you the ins-and-outs of the medical field. There are many different jobs available in various fields, and mentors and fellow co-workers you meet along the way can share with you their experiences and give great insight. Whether you’re volunteering in a hospital or a nursing home or working full time as a certified EMT - any exposure can help you to decide if the medical field is right for you!
Travel the World. If you have wanderlust, now is a great time to travel the world and explore all that you’ve wanted to see. At the same time, you could gain some global experience by volunteering with non-profit organizations abroad, such as International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) (embed link: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-abroad-projects/medical-and-health).
A mixture of these options (and many more!) are a great way to spend your gap year. That being said, be sure to choose activities that will best improve your application. For example, if you have a 3.8 GPA, time would be better spent gaining clinical experience rather than completing a post-baccalaureate program. Medical schools look for well-rounded individuals with experience in many different areas of medicine, so it’s best to show them how unique you are.
Whether you decide to take a gap year after college is entirely your decision. It will definitely be a tough year of your life, but it’s best to not be discouraged! For example, for my upcoming gap year, I plan to work as a medical assistant in a retinal specialist’s office while applying to medical school while continuing my volunteer work in a clinical research lab. Everyone utilizes their gap year differently, and often times, life may have different plans for you than you expected!