Taking one or more gap years before medical school is becoming more and more common. In fact, of the 2016 incoming medical students who responded to the AAMC’s Matriculating Student Questionnaire, 60.6% say they took at least one year between undergrad and medical school. Many premeds use that time to take additional coursework, study for and take the MCAT exam, conduct research, shadow physicians, or work as an EMT or medical scribe. But those are not your only options.
You can get involved in a community and develop real-world skills by taking a service year, such as the programs offered through AmeriCorps. You may have heard about Teach for America, but there are many other programs and positions with non-profits or schools, some of which even have a health focus.
So why should you consider a service year? Here are some of the benefits:
1. Demonstrate your service orientation.
There are 15 core competencies medical schools are often looking for as they evaluate your application, and “Service Orientation” is one of them. This means applicants who “demonstrate a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrate a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognize and act on your responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.” A service year is an impressive way to show schools you’re committed to serving others. This also demonstrates many of the other competencies, such as “Cultural Competence” and “Teamwork.”
2. Receive student loan forgiveness.
On top of a stipend or living allowance, a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is gifted after completion of your service year with any AmeriCorps program. This can be used towards existing student loans or the future cost of medical school. Additionally, you may be eligible for an AmeriCorps forbearance. During a forbearance, you are not required to make a payment, however you are responsible for interest that accrues on any outstanding unsubsidized loans. For more information, visit the Federal Student Aid website.
3. Develop relationships.
During a service year, you will have an opportunity to build your professional network with teammates and members of your community who can get to know you even better than your college professors, since you’re working with them full-time. These colleagues will become great resources for letters of recommendation, as they can speak to your hard work outside of the classroom. You may even find a mentor or make lifelong friends.
4. Make a difference.
Many premeds are interested in becoming a physician because they want to help people. Taking a service year is a great way to make a positive impact on people though your work, whether it’s tutoring children, caring for the elderly, supporting veterans, aiding the homeless, or helping communities recover from natural disasters. Even if these activities aren’t directly related to medicine, you may find many issues related to medicine by way of their impact the health of individuals and communities.
You can learn more about serving during a gap year before medical school through Service Year.