Benefits of Taking a Medical Gap Year: Be Open to the Possibilities!

April 14, 2014

Taking time off before pursuing studies in higher education is no longer stigmatized; students across all fields of study can benefit from a gap year.  The benefits of taking a gap year as a pre med student are particularly strong.  If you want to pursue a medical career but are not quite ready to make the leap, for whatever reason, consider these benefits to engaging in gap year activities in medicine after graduation.

Reasons to Take a Medical Gap Year

There are a number of reasons for you to take a medical gap year before applying to medical school.  Theses include:

  • Having a low undergraduate GPA or poor MCAT score
  • Not having the prerequisite coursework to apply to medical school
  • Not having enough experience in a clinical setting
  • Desiring to travel abroad
  • Needing stronger letters of recommendation
  • Figuring out exactly WHY you want to become a doctor and being able to persuasively communicate that in writing

Best Activities for Pre Med Students in a Gap Year

There are a number of activities that pre med students can participate in during a medical gap year.  These include:

  • Working in a research lab:  Take advantage of those science courses and spend time working in a university or corporate research lab.  This opportunity will allow you to develop your fine-motor skills, analytical abilities, and problem-solving skills.  You will also see a side of medicine that you might not have seen if you had gone straight into medical school.
  • Completing a post bac program: If you realized late in your university studies that you wanted to apply to medical school but you didn’t complete the requisite science coursework to make you eligible, consider entering a post bac program to get that coursework under your belt.  With a year spent focusing on the core classes of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry, you’ll be immersed in the language and world of science, enhance your GPA, prepare for the MCAT, and qualify for medical school.
  • Participating in volunteer clinical experiences: This relates tangentially to the above topic.  You may have completed the right sciences courses during your undergraduate studies, but you may not have participated in any meaningful clinical experiences.  It is very difficult, though not impossible, to get into medical school without having hands-on experience in a clinical setting.  Pre medical students in a gap year have an extended period of time to gain access to a range of clinical experiences that will enhance their medical school applications and help them acquire strong letters of recommendation. Considering shadowing a physician in the specialty that most interests you.  For example, if you want to be come a pediatrician, shadow a doctor at your local children’s hospital.  If the shadowing experience is successful, continue your involvement at this same hospital by acting as a volunteer or obtaining a specific internship.  This commitment to one extended but diverse experience will show medical schools that you are dedicated to a medical career and can handle the challenges that come with this choice.
  • Traveling abroad: You’ve got your undergraduate degree, and now you’re free to explore the world!  You can use your medical gap year to both travel abroad and gain health care experience.  There are many international organizations which will provide you with a comprehensive medical gap year experience.  Pre medical students who participate in an international gap year have the opportunity to learn about a variety of cultures, to experience medical systems in other countries, and to develop the capacities of empathy, problem-solving, and flexibility.  Gap Medics offers gap year medical experiences to pre med students who desire to travel abroad and enhance their medical school applications through hands-on clinical activities.  If you are feeling even more adventurous, you can try the Peace Corps. There is a need in nearly every developing country for enthusiastic medical volunteers, whether it be Tanzania, Thailand, India, and even Tibet! A little research, and you’ll be able to align your wanderlust with a gap year medical experience.

Applying to Medical School After a Gap Year

Your twenties are a time of significant personal growth as you transition from an older adolescent to a full-fledged young adult.  Medical schools recognize that students in their early twenties may not be fully mature enough to make the decision to pursue medical school.  As a younger twenty-something, you might feel completely confident that a career as a physician is the right path for you, and that is great!  But for those pre medical students who could benefit from a gap year to explore career choices in medicine, medical There are up to 15 births a day in our Tanzanian partner hospitalsschools applaud your decision to pursue these interests before applying to their schools and making a tremendous commitment.  Your medical school application after a gap year will be significantly enhanced by the travel experiences, internships opportunities, shadowing insights, and letters of recommendation that you’ve acquired during this time “off” from traditional studies.

Everyone’s Doing It… But Not Really!

More and more students are graduating from university and delaying their medical school applications till the following year.  The average age of students entering medical school continues to edge up and now hovers at 24; a significant number are in their late twenties!  Medical schools have become increasingly open to the benefits of pursuing a medical gap year and continue to admit students who have participated in medical gap year activities.  You will not be alone as a gap year medical school applicant, which means it’s even more important to take full advantage of this time to enhance your professional and personal growth as a pre medical student.

If you have any concerns that taking a gap year will make you a less competitive medical school applicant, think again!  Pre medical students who take a gap year are often more competitive, more experienced, more mature than their younger counterparts. A medical gap year has many advantages – so think about taking one! — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.