What should you do during your gap year before medical school?

What To Do During Your Gap Year Before Medical School

Over the past few years, the average age of a student matriculating to medical school has been steadily rising and now hovers around 24-years-old. (AAMC) Part of this growing trend can be attributed to the increasing popularity of taking time between completing college and matriculating to graduate school, known as “gap years.” According to the AAMC, 62.6% of entering MD students in 2017 reported taking at least one gap year and this trend is only growing.

Since the application process to medical school lasts almost a year, you may be considering gap years for many reasons: whether it is to have some time to decide if medicine is right for you or to complete crucial requirements that you may not have had time to do in college. In this article, we will answer the following questions:

For more resources that will help you succeed during your gap year before medical school, read more about how to write a premed cover letter and how to write a winning resume. If you have any questions about gap years, contact us down below!

Should I Take A Gap Year Before Applying?

According to the AAMC, in 2019 there were 896,819 applications submitted by 53,371 applicants, with an average of 17 applications per applicant. In recent years, we’ve recommended:

When considering the question, “should I take a gap year before applying to medical school,” you must keep in mind your unique circumstances and timeline to ensure application success. There are generally 2 categories of students who take gap years before applying to medical school:

  1. Premeds who need time to improve components of their application (whether they are test scores or extracurriculars)
  2. Premeds who need more time before committing to a career in medicine or want to pursue other opportunities.

Below, we will break down each scenario and reasons that would justify or may not justify taking a gap year.

Gap Year Scenario #1: Completing Medical School Application Requirements or Improving Your Medical School Application

Reasons to Justify taking Gap Year(s)

  1. You will not complete your prerequisite science courses by the time you would matriculate to medical school.
    • This instance can arise for many reasons. Some students decide late in their college careers or after they graduate to pursue medicine as a career. Since there are many required pre-requisite courses, sufficient time to complete these courses is necessary.
    • Post-baccalaureate programs are usually a good option as they are accelerated courses of study that minimize the amount of time that you would need to take these courses.
  2. Your GPA or MCAT score is significantly lower than the mean at the medical schools you want to attend.
    • Although your GPA and MCAT score are not the only factors considered in your medical school application, they are still the two biggest ones and play a large role in demonstrating your academic preparation for medical school. Sometimes, attending a masters or graduate program may provide a bump to your GPA that would make you competitive at these schools.
    • If your MCAT score is low or you received it too late to be competitive in rolling admissions, taking the time to retest or apply much earlier in the cycle could make a big difference in your admissions outcomes. 
    • Cracking Med School Admissions’ Resource: Read How to Use the MSAR Effectively
  3. You haven’t been able to develop a sustained commitment to volunteering, community service, or clinical exposure.
    • Understanding what patient care and service looks like is of paramount importance to medical school admissions committees. Making sure that you have gained sufficient experience volunteering and working in clinical settings ensures that you understand what being a provider entails and that you are prepared for such a role.

Reasons that may not Justify taking Gap Year(s)

  1. You have volunteered or gained clinical exposure but think that you need more to “stand out” compared to other applicants.
    • If you have already dedicated yourself to an activity for multiple years or a few hundred hours, it is very unlikely that any more time will correlate with a more impressive application.
    • Keep in mind that you can still pursue these activities while applying and discuss how you have continued to engage in them during the application year.
  2. You think that another year might help to edge your GPA or MCAT up, but not significantly.
    • Oftentimes, a year can make a difference in your GPA, but unless you believe that you would be able to excel at a much higher level than you have until now, it is unlikely that it would change enough to make a tangible difference for medical schools.
    • Similarly, if you have taken the MCAT multiple times and your score seems to be relatively fixed, it is unlikely that more time will produce a different outcome.
Scenario #2: Gaining more Experiences before Going to Medical School

Reasons to Justify taking Gap Year(s)

  1. If you are passionate about other industries/professions and would like to explore them before committing to medical school.
    • Since the track of medical training can stretch anywhere from 8-14 years, medical schools want their students to be sure of their commitment. Exploring new areas before applying to medical school allows you to make this decision confidently.
    • Some premeds also receive once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Perhaps you landed your perfect job after college graduation. Or, you received funding to conduct research abroad. Don’t be afraid to LIVE and pursue those opportunities. Medical school application cycles will always be around, but some of these opportunities will not always be available. These opportunities may also serve as great connections to future work you do in healthcare. So, weigh the pros and cons of your decisions. 
  2. You are greatly enjoying some of the research or volunteering work that you are doing and would like to take a break from school and complete your projects before starting medical school.
    • Medical schools like to see commitment and dedication and taking the time to complete any work or projects that you may have started not only allows you to feel accomplished, but also reflects well on your application.
  3. You need some personal time or are burned out from school and need some time before starting again.

Reasons that may not Justify taking a Gap Year(s)

  1. You think that adding a Master’s or graduate degree would “look good” and impress admissions readers.
    • Many students think that with these extra degrees, they may appear more impressive on paper, but this is often a poor strategy.
    • Only pursue this if you have a sustained interest in a particular area and would have pursued the degree regardless of whether you were going to apply to medical school.
  2. You feel that gaps years are the “norm” and that even though you are ready to apply, you would be at a disadvantage of applying straight through.
    • Although it is increasingly common to take gap years, taking one for the sake of taking one make not be in your best interest.
    • Don’t be afraid to apply to medical school if you are ready! 

Read Essays About
Gap Year Experiences

What To Do In Gap Year Before Medical School

Now that we have discussed the different scenarios of whether you should take a gap year before applying to medical school, let’s discuss what you can do during your gap year to make it a productive and fruitful one. The best way to determine how to spend your gap year is to consider the current holes or points of concern on your resume and whether a particular option clearly addresses it. We want to ensure that you are adding new information to your application rather than doubling down on an area that is already developed. There are five categories of experiences that we will discuss: pursuing more education, conducting research, working in healthcare, studying for the MCAT, or gaining other professional experiences.

Remember, you can combine multiple of these options during your gap year!

Gap Year Option #1: Taking Additional Classes & Furthering Your Education
  • Enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program. Post-bacc programs are great options for students who need to complete science pre-requisites and gain some extracurricular experiences or students whose GPA is significantly lower than what most MD and DO schools will accept
  • Doing a Master’s Degree in a medically relevant field/field of interest. If you are particularly passionate about a certain discipline, pursuing a master’s degree can open doors if you want to do work as something other than a physician after your training. You could also demonstrate the strength of recent grades and develop your unique “angle” as a future physician.

Popular advanced degrees premeds pursue during their gap years:

  • Master’s of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master’s of Public Policy (MPP or MPA)
  • Master’s of Medicine (M Sc)
  • Master’s of Global Health
Gap Year Option #2: Conducting or continuing medically-relevant research
  • Since conducting research can be extremely time consuming and difficult to manage with the demands of class or other extracurricular experiences, taking some time to solely focus on it may allow you to run projects and publish your work that would have not been possible while in school.
  • Research has steadily become an unspoken requirement and is a great way to demonstrate commitment and dedication to a long-term project and lab, indicating that you would be able to continue this kind of academic work in medical school
  • This would be ideal for students whose GPA and MCAT score are where they need to be and who may want experience working in a lab setting on important projects and developing a new skill set that may serve them well moving forward.
Gap Year Option #3: Gaining clinical exposure by working in healthcare
  • Gap years allow you to engage professional medical experiences that provide a salary (unlike volunteering) and still allow you to gain meaningful clinical exposure.
  • Working as a medical interpreter, scribe, emergency medical technician, or medical device manager allows you to demonstrate a commitment to medicine and serving others and will help you get some money to help pay for medical school.
  • This is best suited for students who have competitive GPA and MCAT scores, but need more clinical exposure and cannot afford to just do so through volunteering.

Clinical Medical School Gap Year Jobs:

  • Clinical research positions
  • EMT
  • Scribe
  • Medical Assistant in a physician’s office
  • Public health worker or community health worker in a federally qualified health center
  • Health educator
  • Patient care coordinator
Gap Year Option #4: Studying for the MCAT
  • Studying for your MCAT during your gap year can be much less distracting than doing so as a student, allowing you to potentially score higher.
  • Nonetheless, more time spent studying for the MCAT will mean sacrificing time spent on other activities and there is no guarantee that you will score higher, no matter how much effort to put in.
  • This is best for students who have a high GPA and quality extracurricular experiences, but just need the “last piece” to have a successful application for their dream schools. This can be coupled with some part-time volunteering or professional medical work.
Gap Year Option #5: Pursuing other professional interests/jobs
  • Physicians these days are not just clinicians, but often are interested in using their expertise to help other parts of society. This can range from running non-profit organizations, teaching, or working at a startup amongst other opportunities.
  • As long as you do not have any major holes or gaps on your application, pursuing another industry or role that brings you fulfillment can help you make a bigger impact and broaden your horizons on potential areas that you can work on after your medical training.
  • These experiences may also serve as great material to cover in your application essays or discuss during an interview.

Popular non-clinical medical school gap year jobs:

  • Healthcare consulting
  • Working for a start-up, medical device company, or pharmaceutical company
  • Medical research that is not patient facing
  • Teaching, including Teach for America
  • Waiter / Waitress

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