Taking a gap year before Medical School is a common thing for premed students to do. There are lots of reasons why students take a gap year and many things to consider.
If you are a premed student deciding whether or not to take a gap year before med school or you are already taking a gap year and want to make the most of it, read this all-inclusive post on gap years before med school.
What Is A Gap Year Before Medical School?
First of all, what exactly is a gap year before medical school? The unique thing about medical school is its very long application process. No matter where you go to med school, the application process takes over a year before matriculation.
It’s because of this that many pre-med students take at least one gap year while they wait through the application process. The only way to avoid a gap year is to take the MCAT prior to the summer after your Junior year in college and apply before senior year.
Is it possible, yes. However, things don’t always go smoothly enough to make this happen. Therefore, students plan to take 1 or multiple years off after college in order to become competitive enough to be accepted into medical school.
Benefits Of A Gap Year Before Medical School
1. More Time Means More Clinical Experience
Medical schools love to see clinical exposure, but sometimes it is hard to find time during your undergrad to get a lot of experience. A gap year can give you that extra time you need to make yourself competitive for medical school.
Giving yourself a whole year with a freed-up schedule can provide the opportunity to engage in a bigger commitment, such as becoming EMT certified and working in an ambulance, or in my case becoming a full-time scribe. These sorts of experiences are highly beneficial because they give you the opportunity to be truly immersed in the medical field.
As a student, you are limited to how many extracurriculars you can do. Sure you can scribe on the weekends or visit the local soup kitchen, but you don’t have the time to obtain the certifications required to take your medical experience to the next level.
Further Reading: 4 Ways Scribing Can Make Medical School an Easier Experience
2. No Need To Cram For The MCAT
I remember during my junior year students were studying for the MCAT to take it in May in order to be able to apply as an early applicant. Some of these students were basically taking a full course load at the same time. I understand the desire to do that, and I admire those who are able to get a competitive score doing that, but still, a lot of people won’t be able to find enough time to prepare and will end up taking it again.
With a single gap year, you are given the opportunity to spend your whole 90-day summer preparing for the MCAT full-time. That is the ideal amount of time to study, and you won’t have to worry about taking classes at the same time.
Further Reading: When is the best time to take the MCAT?
3. Chance To Increase Your GPA
We all know that getting accepted into medical school requires a competitive GPA. This doesn’t mean your overall GPA has to hit the median of the school you are applying to, an upward trend can make you very appealing to medical schools.
One way to increase your GPA and make yourself competitive for medical schools is to do a post bacc program. There are post bacc programs designed specifically to enhance your GPA for medical schools. Some of these programs even offer a master’s degree which makes it easier to receive student loans, makes your medical school application even more impressive, and gives you a backup option for other job opportunities.
4. Extra Time To Accomplish Personal Goals
This is possibly the greatest benefit of a gap year. Sometimes we just do not have the time to accomplish our personal goals whether it is training to compete in a triathlon or starting a blog.
Pursuing some personal goals such as these is not only self-liberating but also another attractive addition to your medical school application. Often times pre-meds get so consumed in the cyclical grind of studying and test-taking that they forget to develop themselves and their personal lives. It is necessary to take time to become the person, and ultimately the doctor, you want to be.
5. A Quick Breather
Yeah, we’re pre-med students and we are generally hard-working, but there is nothing wrong with slowing down a little bit and enjoying the little things.
Once medical school starts you will be working your butt off, which will be awesome because it will be what you love, but you won’t have as much time for family and friends. A gap year is an opportunity to spend some more time with those around you.
6. A Transition From The College Mindset
I understand that this won’t apply to everyone — some people actually have a very structured schedule where they wake up early and go to sleep early. Lots of college students, however, have very sporadic schedules. Some people sleep in till 1PM to attend their first class and stay up till 3AM studying.
In general, college can very easily screw up any stability in one’s schedule with all the social and academic events. Gap years can help develop a more disciplined schedule through any sort of standard, full-time job. This will help for medical school because when you develop a habit of waking up early and going to sleep at a decent hour you will be better at staying on top of the rigorous course schedule without having to pull all-nighters.
7) Learning Real-life Skills
College can be a bubble that protects you from real-world problems. Dealing with employers, negotiating salaries, maintaining a home, and learning how to work in a teamwork environment are a few examples.
In medical school and residency, you will be expected to balance life with an increasing workload. Having already experienced life will help you develop skills that will help you develop this balance.
8) An Opportunity To Do Research
Having real research experience can help you down the road when you are considering things like residency. If you spend a year or two doing a lot of the groundwork, the publication process can continue while you are in medical school so that by the time you are applying to residencies you can have your name on real published studies.
Disadvantages Of Taking A Gap Year Before Medical School
There are lots of benefits to doing a gap year before medical school, but this article would not be all-inclusive if I did not list the disadvantages as well.
1. Less Time With A Doctor Salary And More Time With Student Loans
I’m sure you have heard of compounding interest. Well when you delay receiving that big doctor paycheck by the year, you delay paying off your loans for another year and more importantly you delay building your retirement investments!
One year of delayed salary can significantly affect how much your retirement savings compound over the years.
2. Readjusting Back Into The Student Mindset
It’s true that doing a gap year before medical school can help you develop some real-life adult skills. But it can also take you out of the student mindset.
Throughout college, we develop a really good study routine to keep up with those difficult premed courses. Taking a gap year can make you rusty. After my gap year, I picked those study habits back up very quickly and it didn’t really affect my grades. But nonetheless, it is something to consider if you are planning on taking a gap year, especially multiple.
3. Losing Focus
Getting into medical school requires tunnel vision. If you are taking a gap year and doing something unrelated to medicine, you could lose sight of the end goal of becoming a physician. Losing focus can make it difficult to get back into the grind of med school.
Is It A Bad Idea To Take A Gap Year Before Medical School?
After listing the pros and cons of taking a gap year before medical school, you can see how it’s not necessarily a bad idea to take one.
It all depends on your personal circumstances.
Without the right reasons, a gap year can put you behind. However, if you are doing something productive and making yourself a better medical school applicant, you can really increase your chances of getting in.
Medical schools will not see taking a gap year as a negative unless you haven’t added anything to your application that year.
Questions To Ask Prior To Taking A Gap Year Before Medical School
Before you decide to take a gap year before med school, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Remember, it is important you are making yourself a better applicant overall. Here are some questions you would want to ask yourself:
Did you have a rough start in college and need the extra time to increase your GPA?
Do you have other goals you want to accomplish in life?
Do you need to mentally recover from your undergrad?
Are there any research opportunities you can take advantage of? Volunteering abroad? Medically related jobs?
Did you do any extracurriculars during your senior year that you want to make sure are included on your application?
What Percentage Of Medical Students Take A Gap Year?
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) the average age of incoming medical students is 24 years old which means that a large percentage of students nowadays take a gap year before medical school.
The AAMC also did a survey which showed that 43.9% of students who matriculated into medical school took 1-2 gap years, 13.4% took 3-4 years, and 7.9% took 5 or more.
In this day and age, med school students are becoming older and older. Why is this? My guess would be due to the fact that entrance into medical school has become more and more competitive.
What To Do During a Gap Year Before Med School?
If you read the benefits of taking a gap year before med school you would have seen some of the things you can do during a gap year. To reiterate, and give you more ideas, here is a list:
- Take the MCAT without distractions from school or work.
- Improve your GPA with a post bacc program.
- Accomplish personal goals.
- Gain clinical experience.
- Get another degree that you can incorporate into your medical careers such as marketing, business, or even something like history.
- Volunteer abroad.
- Shadow more physicians.
- Gain residency in a state that accepts more in-state students (such as Texas).
- Save up to reduce student loans.
- Buy real estate you can use during medical school and rent out to additional students.
Medically Related Jobs For Your Gap Year Before Medical School
Getting a healthcare job that can give you experience related to being a doctor is a very good idea.
Here are some ideas for premed jobs that would be perfect for a gap year before med school:
1. Medical Scribe
Being a scribe before medical school is becoming more and more popular. I personally was an ER scribe and loved the experience.
You are essentially shadowing a physician all day long. Not only that, but you are learning the physician lingo, medical terminology, how an ER or clinic functions, and much more. You will also get to develop professional relationships with doctors that you can use to receive a letter of recommendation.
Another popular premed job is becoming an Emergency Medical Technician or EMT. Being an EMT can be a very fun and rewarding experience. Depending on where you live and how long you work as an EMT, you can also get jobs that work close to physicians such as an ER tech.
Given the nature of the job, you can also expect to have some great stories to tell during your medical school interviews.
Working as a CNA can be fairly similar to working as an EMT. Most CNAs will get a job working for a nursing home at first but usually have the opportunity to become an ER tech as well.
4. Medical Interpreter
Speak Spanish fluently? Hospitals are constantly looking for medical interpreters to act as the liaison between physicians and non-English speaking patients. This job can essentially be like getting paid to shadow a doctor and actually provide an important task for the hospital.
What Do Most Pre-Meds Do During a Gap Year?
According to the AAMC study referenced above, here is how premed students spend the years between college and medical school: (By the way, the percentages add up to more than 100% because some students did more than one option. Also, this survey was done in 2019.)
- Worked at another career 53.3%
- Worked to improve finances 38.5%
- Continued coursework to fulfill premedical requirements 13.7%
- Took premedical courses for the first time 6.4%
- Pursued graduate studies 23.0%
- Worked/volunteered internationally 11.9%
- Worked/volunteered in research 45.4%
- Helped fulfill family obligations 22.2%
- Other 14.2%
What Do Medical Schools Like To See In A Gap Year?
There isn’t anything specific that medical schools like to see in a gap year. The only thing they care about is that you are being productive and doing things that will ultimately make you a better doctor.
This doesn’t mean you have to commit to working in a healthcare-related job or do research. You could enter into an entirely different career in order to develop skills that make you a better leader and a team player. Or you could travel abroad to experience different cultures. As long as you are enriching your life in some way you will be a better applicant for medical school.
That being said, it is still recommended to do some volunteering, shadowing, or other premed extracurriculars on the side since you will have a whole extra year with plenty of free time.
Taking 1 vs 2 Gap Years Before Medical School
It is fairly easy to get into a situation where you need to take 2 gap years before medical school instead of 1.
For instance, if you haven’t taken the MCAT before graduation, you will want to devote the entire summer after undergrad to study for the test, which puts you in the late application category. A late application means that most likely you will need to apply at the beginning of the following summer. By the time you matriculate into medical school, you will have taken 2 gap years.
Above is an example of a student’s plan to do 2 gap years before medical school.
There isn’t anything wrong with doing 2 or even more gap years. Just keep in mind that the cons I listed earlier in this article will affect you even more as you increase the number of gap years you take.
Taking A Gap Year Can Open Doors To Other Passions
If your dream is to be a doctor, taking a gap year should not detract from this ultimate goal. However, if you discover that you have another passion, wouldn’t you want to know?
I know most pre-med students don’t want to think like this. Getting into medical school requires tunnel vision to make it. However, tunnel vision can blind you from discovering other careers that could make you just as happy or even happier. It’s a catch 22.
If you decide to take a gap year, be prepared to possibly lose that tunnel vision and consider other paths. If you decide that becoming a physician was your calling despite the distractions, you will have helped eliminate the doubt that could creep in later in your career.
If you are the kind of person who loses interest quickly, keep reading for some tips to remain determined.
Tips For Staying Motivated During Your Gap Year Before Medical School
A year is a long time. Without the constant studying and premed-related activities you do during undergrad, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal of becoming a physician.
This is something I personally struggled with but was able to maintain that motivation through various methods. Here are my top 3 tips for staying motivated during your gap year before medical school:
1. Watch Motivational Youtube Videos
I used to watch Youtube videos of surgeries during my gap year. Becoming a surgeon was my end goal and watching those experts at work was super motivating to me. There are tons of premed, med student, and physician channels out there that are full of motivational videos.
2. Stay In Touch With Your Premed Friends
Some of your premed friends may be in medical school by the time you take a gap year. Others might be taking a gap year just like you. Stay in touch with your premed friends as much as possible. Keep each other motivated and you will be in medical school before you know it!
3. Get A Job In The Medical Field
Working as a scribe, EMT, or CNA not only looks good on your application but can also keep you motivated. These jobs give you the opportunity to work closely with physicians and see them in action!
Important Tips If You Are Trying To Avoid Taking A Gap Year Before Medical School
There is nothing wrong with taking a gap year before medical school, but maybe you just started your undergrad and you really want to try avoiding a gap year. Here is some advice.
1. Take The MCAT Early
If you are really trying to avoid taking a gap year, it’s important you start planning to do this early on as a pre-med. Consider taking the MCAT as early as the summer before Junior year if you want to devote a whole summer to it.
2. Do Your Extracurriculars On Time
You want to make sure you do the extracurriculars you want to be seen on your Medical School Application before your senior year. Yes, you can update your Medical School application at any time during the application cycle, but you are more likely going to be seen if you put all the important stuff in your initial submission.
3. Maintain A Good GPA Early On
Getting good grades is obvious advice but nonetheless it’s worth reiterating how quickly you can lose control of your GPA if you are not on top of it from day 1. If you have already messed up your first year of college there is still a chance to show a strong upward trend but this could mean delaying entrance to medical school since you will need the extra time to redeem yourself.
So, Should I Take A Gap Year Before Medical School?
If you have read this entire post you should have a good idea of whether or not doing a gap year before medical school is right for you.
More and more medical school applicants are taking gap years so there is nothing wrong if you need to take one or more. Just make sure you have a plan that will make you a better applicant. Increase your GPA, take the MCAT, work as a scribe, earn another degree, there are so many different things you can do.
I’ll leave you with one more piece of advice: Enjoy your gap year.
This is your chance to get things done that you won’t have time for during medical school. Go on a vacation, start a new hobby, and hang out with your friends. You just spent 4 difficult years as a premed student, you deserve a break!