What to Do During a Gap Year Before Medical School

Padya Paramita

What to Do During a Gap Year Before Medical School 

If you’re a college junior trying to decide whether you should take the plunge and apply to medical school right after graduation, you should take time and reflect on your experiences so far. With medical school acceptance rates becoming more competitive than ever, the landscape has become increasingly cutthroat. As a result, most students decide to take a gap year between their time in undergrad and medical school in order to beef up their profile and grow as a more competitive candidate. This leads to the question of what to do during a gap year before medical school

More and more students have begun to take one or two years off before applying to medical school, so it’s no surprise that the average age of medical school applicants is now 24. But don’t just go ahead and push back a year on applications so that you can sit at home and watch television. Admissions committees won’t appreciate your gap year if your profile doesn’t reflect an unparalleled dedication to the medical profession. To help you decide what to do during a gap year before medical school, I’ve outlined some ways in which you can maximize your opportunities and hopefully come out of it as a stronger candidate for your dream MD program. 

Gain More Clinical Experience

Since you’ve been busy trying to complete your pre-med requirements as well as your degree, you might not have had enough time to expose yourself to patients. Just because you’re not a doctor yet doesn’t mean that you can’t get any patient interaction on your resumé. There is plenty of work out there for work with patients, such as becoming an EMT, medical scribe, or a clinical research assistant. The latter is an effective way to get research experience in a way that still allows for patient work. Patient interaction will make you more comfortable with the communication skills you need as a doctor.

Volunteer or Shadow at Hospitals

When you think about what to do during a gap year before medical school, you ideally want a paying job. But if that’s not a possibility, you can always seek out volunteering initiatives at hospitals. See if there are any blood drives, fundraisers, or even opportunities to assist nurses and physicians during medical emergencies. Patient technician roles and other jobs where you can immerse yourself in patient care could also be possibilities for per diem work. 

Reach out to local doctors and see if they would allow you to shadow them for a significant period of time. Shadowing can help you understand the schedule of a doctor better, and also give you time to talk to them about their work and medical school experience. While unpaid, both volunteering and shadowing can provide you with patient exposure, even if you have to find another paid job on the side.

Conduct Research

As you plan what to do during a gap year before medical school, you should definitely seek out research opportunities if you haven’t done so. If you can’t find clinical research opportunities, working at a lab can also provide you with scientific experiences that would benefit your medical school profile. Research under your belt for a year or two, especially if you can back it up with a recommendation letter from your supervisor, demonstrates a commitment to science, intellectual curiosity, as well as grit and a strong work ethic. If the research leads to your name being a part of presentations, abstracts, and publications - even better! But even if you can’t get your name on a publication, research is a valuable addition to your resumé.

Boost Your GPA

To get into the most selective of medical programs, you need a strong GPA. If you didn’t have the best academic track record - especially in science courses - number one on your list of what to do during a gap year before medical school should be to find ways to improve it. Having time off gives you the chance to sign up for postbac science classes or a science-based master’s program. Take a look at the median GPA for accepted students at the MD schools on your list to get a sense of the GPA you should go after.

Retake the MCAT if Necessary

Most MD schools - no matter their ranking - boast high MCAT scores for admitted students. The bottom line is, you need to make sure your score is high enough to compete with them. For MD programs, you should aim for a score above 510. If your result can’t compare with the medians at schools on your list, definitely prioritize retaking the MCAT when thinking about what to do during a gap year before medical school. Use the time to study, make notes, and take practice tests, and settle on a test date once you’re confident that you’ll be able to score well. That said, preparing for the MCAT should not be the only thing you do during a gap year. While this test deserves plenty of studying, admissions committee members want to see that you have compelling experiences to show for your time off.

Reflect on Your Reasons Behind Pursuing Medicine

The medical school journey is by no means an easy one. Even if you get in, you’ll have to keep persevering throughout the next four years - and pretty much the rest of your life. When planning what to do during a gap year before medical school, it can help to really think about why this path is important to you. Reflecting on your ambitions and short and long-term goals can also help you prepare for writing your personal statement, as well as the medical school interview process down the line. Take some time to consider why you’ve chosen this path, what your intentions are, and the best options for achieving your goals.

Healthcare Consulting 

If you love research, math, and data analysis, consider working as a healthcare consultant when brainstorming what to do during a gap year before medical school. If you’re passionate about both business and medicine, this could certainly be a way to combine your strengths. Plus, working as a healthcare consultant can help build your skills in communication and self-motivation – which can benefit you throughout medical school. 

Pick Up a New Hobby or Work on an Existing One

Medical schools receive applications from a lot of candidates that read as similar. While you should definitely have experience in the medical field, it’s also key that you find ways to stand out. This is where having an extracurricular interest in another field comes in handy. Are you a really talented saxophone player? Do you have 100,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel? Do you speak 5 different languages? You get the idea. If you don’t have any standout experiences under your belt, a gap year is the perfect time to pick up a new hobby or start a new initiative. 

Work on Your Bucket List 

If you’ve always wanted to travel to all of the wonders of the world or hike the Appalachian Trail, your gap year is the time to check such items off of your bucket list if you are able. The activity might not be related to medicine at all – but it doesn’t have to be. If you experience a once-in-a-lifetime event or trip, it can separate you from your peers, and would definitely be an interesting talking point when it comes to your medical school interviews.

Work in Another Field

Going off of the last point, when it comes to what to do during a gap year before medical school, we can’t emphasize enough how much you need to frame your application in a memorable way. You should be able to connect your job to your love of medicine and passion for helping others, but you don’t have to get a job at a hospital. If your undergraduate major was in a field like political science, business, or computer science, these are all disciplines that overlap with the medical world in one way or the other. 

So instead of taking the traditional clinical position route, you could work in a seemingly completely unrelated field as we’ve seen many successful applicants do, such as being a chef or a librarian (yes, these are real examples). A certain job might seem random, but can serve as the very factor that helps you stand out. As a doctor, you’ll work with people constantly - so think about how you could spend your gap year honing skills that can prove to be useful for your work with others. 

Leave Some Time to Relax

Many students get burned out when they get to medical school because after all, it’s a stressful process on top of just coming out of undergrad. While you shouldn’t spend your entire gap year binge-watching your favorite Netflix show, it doesn’t hurt to schedule some downtime into your week. Take a break from studying for the MCAT or volunteering to spend time with friends, go out to the movies, or spend a day at the beach. It’s as important for your mind to catch a break once in a while as much as it is to review test material.

Considering only 41% of applicants were admitted into medical school last year, it’s time to step up your game and boost your application profile. Taking advantage of the time between college and medical school is one of the most effective ways to fill up any gaps on your resumé. Think carefully about what to do during a gap year before medical school, as the areas you need to work on most depends your own personal profile. Good luck! 

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