So, you’ve decided to take a gap year. Or maybe you’re still weighing your options. But what are the ideal jobs for a med school gap year, and how do you determine what options are best for you?
The type of gap year job you want depends on why you’re waiting a year to apply to medical school. If you’re taking a year off in between to travel and explore the world, your gap year job will be of less importance. Maybe you’ll gain a few more experiences you can add to your application, but that won’t be the main focus of your gap year.
On the other hand, if you’re taking a gap year to improve your application, you must carefully consider which jobs and experiences will be the most meaningful to you and enhance your application.
Choosing the Ideal Jobs for Med School Gap Year
Go Into Your Year With a Plan
What’s your reason for taking a gap year? Was it your intention to improve a specific area of your application? Did you decide to take a gap year because your application was late or you wouldn’t be able to submit it early enough in the application process? If this is the case, you can use your extra time to gain more experience and fine-tune your application, but don’t lose sight of your goal.
Don’t get so caught up with extracurriculars and other jobs during your gap year that you run out of time to have your application ready early for the following application cycle.
At the beginning of your gap year, set out with a plan. What do you hope to accomplish? What type of job will help you reach your goals? How much time do you have to dedicate to a gap year job while making sure you have enough time to focus on your application?
Learn more in our thorough guide: Should I Take a Gap Year Before Medical School?
Focus on Your Weaknesses
Choosing the ideal gap year job depends on the experience you currently have and what you are currently lacking in your application.
If you need more clinical experience or direct shadowing with a physician, consider becoming a medical scribe. If you want hands-on clinical experience but already have experience shadowing a physician, consider working as an EMT. If you are lacking in research experiences, consider a job that focuses on research.
All are great options, but it’s best to pick whichever option will help you become a more well-rounded applicant. Approach gap year jobs through the lens of what will round out your application the best and bring up your weak points.
Watch Out for Diminishing Returns
At some point, adding more hours to your list in a certain experience isn’t going to offer you much in return. If you already have an impressive number of hours in a certain area, adding another few hundred of the same hours is not going to make much of a difference to admissions committees.
For example, if you have 2000 hours of experience scribing, adding another 500 hours doesn’t have the same effect as adding hours in another area or putting that time somewhere else.
You’re better off spending that time at another job, working on fine-tuning your application, volunteering, etc.
What Are You Interested In?
Lastly, it’s important to take a step back and consider your own interests. What area of medicine entices you the most? Which field of medicine have you always dreamed of practicing one day? Are you looking for a more methodical learning experience or a fast-paced job that changes from day-to-day?
Of course, always keep your application in mind. If you have hardly any experience in a certain area, you should make sure you get some, but in most cases, following your passions will have greater returns. When you are interested in the work, you are far more likely to go above and beyond. That passion and extra effort will be noticed by those around you, which can lead to strong letters of recommendation.
Types of Medical School Gap Year Jobs
1 | Research Assistant
Taking part in research activities during your gap year is one of the most high-yield and useful things you can do to boost your chances of getting into medical school (or residency, but that’s for another time!)
There are two main categories of research, and knowing which type you want to pursue will help you find an ideal position.
Basic research, also known as bench research, means working in a lab and conducting experiments on cells, tissues, and animals. This kind of research is time-intensive and taxing, as it can take weeks or months to learn the techniques and even longer to achieve consequential results. This can make it difficult to earn a publication, but it provides invaluable insight into how research works at its foundational level. Even without a publication, admissions committees will consider your bench research experience as evidence of your dedication to developing your research and medical skills. Plus, it will give you plenty to talk about during interviews.
Clinical research means working with patients or patient data. This research is more flexible and can often be accomplished with a computer, like in the case of a chart review, so it may be easier to publish something fast. But if you’re not interacting with patients, you’ll be spending most of your time searching through charts.
Working in a research setting for an entire year, regardless of whether it is a basic science or clinical, is a great way to improve your application. It lets admissions committees know that you’re someone who is intellectually curious and committed to advancing science and medical knowledge. Doctors are lifelong learners, and this is definitely a quality that medical school admissions committees are looking for in prospective students. An excellent way to strengthen your application is to secure publications, abstracts, and presentations.
Read our 5 Tips for Summer Research Success.
2 | Medical Scribe
Medical scribes work closely alongside physicians, essentially shadowing them while they meet with patients. Medical scribes take notes during patient interviews, write up encounters on a medical chart, and assist with the flow of patients through the emergency department.
Scribes also enter the history of present illness (HPI) and document the physician’s dictated notes about the physical exam, differential diagnoses, and progress notes. There are also a wide variety of smaller duties required of a scribe, including obtaining medical records from other facilities and calling consults.
Essentially, a scribe’s goal is to improve the productivity of the physician by enabling them to focus on medical decision making, which, in turn, improves patient flow and overall outcomes.
Working as a medical scribe in a clinical setting is an excellent way of gaining clinical experience because it immerses you in the medical environment and gives you hands-on experience dealing with patients and the health issues they experience.
3 | Medical Assistant
Medical assistants offer administrative and clinical assistance to doctors, provide support to patients, and act as a messenger between patients and doctors. As a medical assistant, you’re there to make the doctor’s job easier. They will often show patients to an exam room, take their vital signs, height, and weight, ask questions about health concerns and symptoms, and then relay this information to the physician. It’s a challenging, fast-paced position that demands discretion, patience, efficiency, empathy, communication skills, attention to detail, and accountability.
While specific tasks may vary depending on the environment you’re working in, medical assistants are typically responsible for answering phone calls and emails, booking, confirming, and rescheduling appointments, greeting, registering, and screening patients, recording the patient’s vital signs, filling out insurance forms, processing payments, sorting files, managing inventory, preparing blood samples for lab tests, sterilizing medical tools, and much more.
Working as a medical assistant provides you with great insight into what it’s like to work in a clinical setting. You will have plenty of opportunities to interact with patients and develop your bedside manner, and you will be in regular communication with a healthcare professional who can give you key advice.
It’s important to note that many employers will expect you to be certified. Certification is available through the CMA American Association of Medical Assistants.
4 | Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
This is an ideal job if you want to gain hands-on medical experience and prefer to work in a fast-paced and adrenaline-filled environment. Being an EMT means you’ll be part of an emergency team and respond to 911 calls from an ambulance. You’ll be able to perform medical exams and respond to a wide variety of calls, from minor sprains to cardiac arrests to gunshot wounds.
Since you’re operating from an ambulance, you’ll be called to a range of different locations, including people’s homes, businesses, or right on the street, and once you’re on the scene, you will be responsible for treating any life-threatening issues, such as major bleeding or difficulty breathing. EMTs must also figure out what the major health complaint is through the completion of a thorough and painstaking history and physical exam.
This job will test your skills under pressure like none other, and you’ll have the added benefit of getting to work with a variety of different health professionals, including nurses, firefighters, police officers, and, of course, doctors. You will work on the scene with firefighters and police officers to stabilize the patient. You will also provide emergency medical physicians and nurses with essential background information on the patient by relaying relevant history and physical exam findings.
The experience you earn being an EMT is invaluable to becoming a doctor, but there are several levels of training required. Find out what it takes to become an EMT.
5 | Certified Nursing Assistant
A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is another ideal position to consider if you’re looking for hands-on experience in a clinical setting. Nursing assistants typically work in rehabilitation facilities and long term care facilities, but they can also be found in inpatient hospital settings.
As a CNA, you will work directly under a Registered Nurse and help patients go about daily activities like bathing and feeding. But a CNA’s responsibilities don’t stop there. A CNA’s duties may include measuring patient vitals, sanitizing operation rooms, assisting with patient transfers, dispensing daily medications, listening to and documenting patient concerns to be relayed to the Registered Nurse, setting up and organizing medical equipment, communicating patient information to their families, responding to a patient’s call for help, and much more.
As you will spend the majority of your time as a CNA working directly with patients, it’s a formidable opportunity to hone your bedside manner and develop your empathy and communication skills.
Certification is not standardized, which means it’s issued by the state after completing a training program and state certification exam. You can find these training programs through colleges, hospitals, or the Red Cross.
6 | Humanitarian Aid
There are a plethora of humanitarian causes out there, and since your calling as a doctor is to help others, volunteering your time to a good cause is an opportune way to spend your gap year, and it will give you plenty to talk about during interviews.
Search for community projects or non-profits in your area, or consider traveling and volunteering internationally to experience a different cultural perspective. Who can benefit from your expertise the most?
Ultimately, what matters most is that you’re passionate about the type of volunteering work you’re signing up for. Do you want to care for or mentor children at home or abroad, assist in disaster or refugee relief, or dedicate your time to fighting poverty? Whatever you do, ensure it’s something that interests you completely so that you can dive in with passion, enthusiasm, and dedication.
Read our article on How to Successfully Volunteer.
Craft a Well-Rounded Application
Med School Insiders offers one-on-one advising that pairs you with a physician advisor who best fits your specific needs. It’s our goal to help you create a future that aligns with your vision. We can help you decide whether or not a gap year is right for you, choose and secure ideal gap year experiences, and fine-tune a well-rounded application that will get noticed by admissions committees.
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