For students who are looking to attend medical school, a gap year is a viable option to strengthen your application and reflect on personal goals and ambitions. I took a gap year before starting medical school and it proved to be highly beneficial. I was able to improve my grades on the application, do clinical research, and work part-time, and I even had time to relax and travel.
That being said, everyone’s situation is different and careful introspection and analysis is necessary prior to making a decision regarding a gap year. Whether you’re considering a gap year or have already decided, here are seven ideas to fill the time effectively.
1 | Complete the MCAT or Improve Your MCAT Score
For some students, a gap year is a great opportunity to take the MCAT. Not having the distractions of daily college classes offers one ample time to adequately prepare for the MCAT.
If you know well in advance that you are going to take a gap year, you can choose to take your MCAT at this time. You may also want to improve your MCAT score during this time if you aren’t happy with your current score.
Learn more in our article: Should I Retake the MCAT? 3 Critical Factors to Consider.
Many MCAT prep courses offer online programs that are flexible, allowing students to simultaneously study for the exam and perform research or other work on the side.
2 | Improve Your GPA with a Master’s or Post-Baccalaureate Program
Let’s face facts: if you don’t have a strong GPA, particularly a strong science GPA, you will not be a competitive medical school applicant. The gap year is a great way to improve your GPA.
Many colleges and medical schools offer science-based Master’s programs and Post-Bacc programs that are specifically designed to boost the science GPA. Some even have linkage agreements with medical schools where if a certain GPA and MCAT score criteria are met, the student will be invited to an interview.
3 | Gain Research Experience
A full year of working in a research setting, whether it be lab (basic) or clinical, is a fantastic way to improve your overall application. It tells admissions officers that you are someone who is intellectually curious, committed to science, and willing to advance their medical knowledge.
Securing publications, abstracts, and presentations is another excellent way to bolster your application.
4 | Work or Volunteer in Healthcare
Volunteer at the local clinic, work as a receptionist in a hospital, or become a medical scribe. Do anything that will give you exposure to the medical field. You will gain valuable experience and be able to foster your passion for helping others.
It also shows medical school admissions committee officers that you are passionate about medicine. For example, during my gap year, I worked as a pharmacy technician. I was able to gain very meaningful exposure to a totally different side of healthcare and was able to learn about some common medications in the process as well. Although not directly related to training as an MD, this glimpse into the world of pharmacy provided me with a different and useful perspective on another part of healthcare.
What are the ideal jobs for a med school gap year, and how do you determine what options are best for you? 6 Ideal Jobs for a Med School Gap Year (And How to Decide).
5 | Shadow Doctors
Consider shadowing physicians during your gap year. Go ahead and reach out to local doctors. Many of them are more than happy to take you under their wing and show you a day in the life. Shadowing will give you meaningful exposure to clinical settings. You will also be able to determine which specialties interest you. Remember, while shadowing, ask the doctor questions such as:
- Why did you choose this specialty?
- How was your overall medical school experience?
- How did you overcome the hardships of medical school?
- What are your most favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
Asking these sorts of questions will offer you a first-hand glimpse of what it is truly like to practice medicine on a daily basis.
6 | Pursue Passion Projects
Medical school will be one of the most trying journeys you will embark on. The grueling pace and lifestyle will test your levels of grit and determination. It is vital to find time to unwind since there isn’t much time to relax once you start.
Use the gap year to travel and pursue your hobbies and interests. During the last few months of my gap year, I traveled and even began the process to obtain a private pilot’s license. Traveling is widely popular, and not just for pleasure, but for its capacity to help you grow, expand your perspective, and cultivate humility and gratitude.
Additionally, the exposure to various cultures will serve you well as you come across patients from diverse backgrounds in medical school, residency, and your future practice. Traveling can also make you a unique applicant. Remember, medical school admissions officers want students who contribute to the diversity of their school.
7 | Relax, Reset, and Reflect on Your Goals
Get yourself into the right headspace for the grueling journey you have ahead of you. A gap year can afford you the opportunity to get some much needed rest and recalibration before you jump into the intense application process.
Take time to reflect on your ambitions and goals. Why do you want to become a doctor? How do you envision your medical school experience? Where do you see yourself five to ten years from now?
Set your intentions and goals now in preparation for medical school and strengthen your resolve. Medical school is tough, and it’s important to remind yourself why you decided on this career path. Always remember the end goal and trust the process.
Should You Take a Gap Year?
Taking a gap year before medical school is a personal decision that needs to be weighed based on your specific circumstances. There are definitely many benefits, but if not properly utilized, you may lose momentum and hurt your chances of getting into medical school.
A gap year should be looked at as an opportunity to build up your experiences and fine-tune your application. It’s far better to wait until you are ready than to struggle through the application process, burn yourself out, and then have to reapply the next year.
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