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How to Use Gap Years

Hello everyone! I hope you are all safe and well. In undergrad, I’ve taken on numerous volunteering, shadowing, and networking opportunities. I’ve met many intelligent and insightful physicians and medical school admissions officers. While they were excited to hear that I’m a pre-med student, a large majority recommended to consider taking a gap year. This pushed me to reconsider my plan.

Firstly, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to eliminate the “traditional medical student” bias: You have to follow a strict, structured pathway towards medical school. This is not true! It is absolutely okay to be a nontraditional medical school applicant, for this may set you apart from others when being placed in a pool of homogeneous applicants. Don’t be afraid of taking a gap year, and definitely don’t belittle yourself for not entering medical school immediately following undergrad. Here are several reasons why healthcare professionals and medical schools recommend taking a gap year before medical school:

  1. Gap years allow time to work on the weakest areas of your medical school application. Perhaps you would like to strengthen your MCAT score or are not satisfied with your personal statement. These are responsibilities that are difficult to manage while balancing a full-time courseload. A gap year allows you to devote time to strengthen these aspects to demonstrate your fullest potential to medical school admissions officers.

  2. Fulfill any missing prerequisites by pursuing a post-baccalaureate program. Maybe you switched majors too late or were a non-science major during undergrad and were unable to take Organic Chemistry. Perhaps you want to boost your GPA to get into your dream medical school. Post-baccalaureate programs are a great way to fill in any of these gaps in your application without committing to pre-med during your early years of undergrad.

  3. Branch out to gain more experience in the medical field. Gap years allow more time to be focused on shadowing, volunteering, working, and research in medicine! Personally, many of my pre-med friends are currently taking a gap year to work as research assistants in some of the most highly respected hospitals of the U.S. without any prior experience. You can also become certified in any entry-level healthcare occupation, such as EMT or CNA, to gain more hands-on inpatient experience. Medical schools like to see consistency, so stick with a position that you thoroughly enjoy rather than juggling numerous jobs to fill up your resume.

  4. Make meaningful connections with mentors. All the opportunities mentioned above will most likely put you into contact with professionals in the field. These connections are great resources for advice, networking opportunities, letters of recommendation, and more. Take time to establish a strong mentor-mentee relationship. Don’t forget to reach out to your mentors often and keep in touch!

  5. Take a mental health break. While school may be sincerely rewarding and beneficial, sometimes we need to take time to focus on ourselves and wellbeing. Perhaps there is a situation in your personal life preventing you from reaching your highest potential. Remember to take a break if necessary. When you’re tired, learn to rest, not quit. It would be unfair for us to advocate for the health of others if we cannot even take care of our own health.

  1. Reflect on your goals. When reaching the interview stage, you will constantly hear the big question, “Why Medicine?”. If you have not yet formed an answer, reflect on your aspirations and determine whether this profession is truly right for you during your gap year. We are constantly growing and evolving. Sometimes we experience a change of heart. Before committing to the life-changing decision of attending medical school, ask yourself WHY you are committed. (Check out one of our latest blogs about how to strengthen your response to this question!)

Gap years are tremendously valuable. If you have the opportunity to utilize one, many physicians will urge you to do so. The more experience you have, the more equipped you will be to serve as a talented physician in the future. Keep in mind that in medical school, you will encounter and work with a large number of peers who are older, perhaps individuals with fully developed families or bustling careers. It is important to match the level of maturity that one would expect from a medical student. Gap years provide the opportunity to better prepare yourself for the responsibility you will be taking on in medical school and beyond.

Thank you for reading! Take care, Rachel


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