For those of you who have been reading my other posts thus far, I have tried to make it clear that what works for me (or others) very well may not work for you. However, I also think there is some value in hearing what individuals such as myself have done in preparation for medical school. This post is meant for those who are planning (or currently are) taking a gap year before matriculating to medical school. I will start the post by defining a gap year (in my opinion), stating a few thoughts on who I think may (or may not) benefit from a gap year, and then I will list some of the activities I participated in during my gap year to prepare for a career in medicine (again, only to serve as reference for those of you who may be interested).
WHAT IS A GAP YEAR?
While the formal definition of a gap year is a “year off between your secondary education (college) and higher education (medical school, law school, etc..)”, I think this definition fails to describe the true nature of what a gap year could and should be. In my own words, I would describe a a gap year as a year devoid of structured schooling that serves as an exploratory and/or preparatory period for higher education. It is a year for self-exploration, exploration into your field of interest, and identification of areas your most passionate about.
For me, I needed a gap year to explore areas that my schedule as a student-athlete simply didn't allow me to pursue (research, heavy volunteer involvement, personal interests such as nutrition and mental health). I’ll talk more about this below, but I learned as much (or more) in my gap year about medicine, life, and myself as I did in four years of undergrad. I needed the year to learn more about medical school and the field of medicine and I did just that. However, for someone who’s wanted to be an interventional radiologist since they were 12, this won’t be the case.
WHO MIGHT (OR MIGHT NOT) BENEFIT FROM A GAP YEAR?
This is actually a really tough question as the answer will vary greatly depending on the individual. Personally, I feel like the majority of pre-med, pre-law, or any advanced pre-professional program student would benefit from the gap year. I think taking one year to really explore the field you plan to enter is both important and necessary. The exception to this would be those who entered college knowing exactly what they wanted to do as a career, planned accordingly from the beginning, and prepared adequately for the road they're about to go down.
Here’s a list of some specific situations where I feel a gap year is warranted:
1) Those who changed majors throughout their college careers.
2) Individuals who feel they need the extra time to prepare for the MCAT, DAT, LSAT, etc.
3) Student-athletes or others who didn’t have the time to really explore their future field of choice.
4) Those who feel they aren’t yet qualified to apply to professional programs due to grades, lack of volunteer experience, limited knowledge of their field of choice, etc..
(Note that #4 may require more coursework to improve grades, thus it wouldn't me a traditional “gap year”)
HOW I USED MY GAP YEAR TO PREPARE FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL
I’ll preface this by stating that my situation was unique. I graduated undergrad in 2017 and still had 3 courses I needed to complete before applying. So, I treated 2017-2018 as an additional academic year in which I completed my prerequisite courses, studied for the MCAT, and prepared my application. 2018 was my application year, which I used as a gap year to further explore the field of medicine while getting involved in some other passions.
Here’s some of the things I got involved with during my gap year:
Research- I was fortunate to receive an offer to join a musculoskeletal medicine lab, where I’ve worked as a research assistant for 2 years now. This position has allowed me to learn more than I could imagine about spinal anatomy (my research area), surgical technique, and sterilization protocol in the OR. All in all, I got really lucky in finding this position.
Volunteer Work- For me, volunteering is something I always want to do. I plan to continue volunteering through medical school because frankly, I just have fun and feel good when I do it. I volunteered this year with a hockey coach for an adaptive sports agency, a group mindfulness and exercise instructor at The American Cancer Society, and as a community caregiver.
Learned about medical topics I was interested in (and some I’m not)- I’m big into disease prevention, human performance, nutrition and exercise, so I read a lot of books and took some online courses on these topics. However, I am also interested in sports medicine and orthopedics, so I have shadowed some local doctors in these fields. I’ve also tried to push myself to read about areas in science that aren't comfortable for me (genetics, microbiology, etc.)
Determined what a career in medicine entails- I know (and have known) that I want to be a doctor. What I didn't know prior to my gap year was all that goes into becoming a really good physician. The sacrifice, determination, and effort required is unlike any other field. However, I can say that through exploring this, I couldn't be more confident that I’m making the right decision.
Got my finance on- I read the White Coat Investor every day. I just bought the book and will probably take the course in the near future. The field of medicine is changing and I want to understand how to best handle my families financial future.
Remember, use this information to help you shape your plans but don’t use it as a blueprint!