It’s become increasingly more common for premeds to take at least one gap year between their undergrad and medical school. In fact, 62.6% of entering MD students in 2017 reported taking at least one gap year in the AAMC’s Matriculating Student Questionnaire. There are a variety of reasons students choose not to go straight into medical school, and there are many ways you can take advantage of that time to make yourself a stronger applicant. Here are a few things you might consider doing:
Take additional coursework. You may need to take more classes to fulfill the prerequisites for medical school or to strengthen your GPA to better demonstrate mastery of upper level science content. This can be through something like a premed postbaccalaureate program, taking classes on your own, or pursuing a master’s degree before medical school.
Get more clinical experience. Gaining a substantial amount of clinical experience is key for your medical school application, and it’s the best way to confirm that a medical career is right for you. You may consider becoming a medical scribe, emergency medical technician (EMT), a hospital volunteer, or any other position in a medical setting.
Prepare and take the MCAT exam. It is key to remember that you should only take the MCAT exam when you feel ready. Using your gap year to prepare for the MCAT exam is one way to use that time. However, be sure that you are not taking the year off just to prepare for the MCAT exam since medical schools want to see that you can handle the rigorous curriculum of medical school.
Reflect on “why medicine.” Take time to think about why you’re pursuing a career in medicine and write down your thoughts. This will help you as you start drafting your personal statement and preparing for interviews. Reflecting on why you’re passionate about this pathway will also keep you motivated and energized.
Build healthy habits. Medical school is demanding, so it’s helpful to learn effective study skills that you can continue to build on and sharpen. A gap year is a great time to get in the habit of exercising, eating healthy, and the right amount of sleep. Making those things part of your routine now will help you maintain a healthy balance once you start medical school.
Learn to budget. Figuring out how to manage your money is an important life skill, especially while paying for an education. Now is the perfect time to create a monthly budget and learn successful money management tools. You can use this FIRST worksheet to get started.
Do something unrelated to medicine. Even while you’re focused on your goal of becoming a physician, it’s important to cultivate other interests and hobbies. Whether it’s something creative, athletic, relaxing, and/or social, it’s good to remember to take mental and physical breaks to recharge. It will be even more important once you start medical school to make sure you schedule time for things you enjoy.
No matter what you decide to do, remember that everyone’s pathway to becoming a doctor is different. You can read more about making the most of a gap year here.