Should you take time off between college and medical school?

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Students playing soccer in Morogoro, Tanzania. Once you finish college, your plan may be to head directly into medical school. Continuing your education right after college has its benefits. Subject information is still fresh, and you’re still in school mode. While going from college directly into med school has its benefits, it may not be the right choice for everyone. Taking a year or two off between college and medical school may be beneficial for some people.

Benefits of a gap year (or two)

Maybe you are considering taking a little hiatus from school for a while before continuing on to medical school. If that is the case, consider what you want to accomplish during your time off.

Explore options: Educating yourself on different medical specialties is always a good idea. There are several ways you can learn more about the medical profession during your gap year. For example, get involved in a shadowing program. There are various programs available in which you can shadow a physician in a specific specialty to get a better understanding of what is involved. Learning about different specialties will give you a head start when it comes to figuring out your medical specialty.

Save money: Medical school is pretty expensive. The more money you have saved up before you start, the better off you are. With classroom, lab work, and clinical assignments, it can be very difficult to work during medical school. If you take a year or two off between college and med school, you can use that time to work and save as much money as possible. It may not be enough to cover all your costs, but every bit helps. 

Gain medical experience: Taking a year off to work in the medical field is a great way to determine if the field is right for you. EMT, nursing assistant and home health aide certifications can often be earned in a few months. Working in any one of those jobs can provide you with patient care experience and help you decide what type of medicine you want to practice. You may also be able to work in the medical field right after college with no additional training. For example, caregiver and medical scribe jobs may be good ways to gain experience. Both jobs usually do not require specific certifications.   

Strengthen your qualifications: Another advantage of taking a gap year between medical school and college is that you can use that time to strengthen your qualifications for medical school. Even if your grades are good and MCAT scores high, medical school can still be competitive. It never hurts to strengthen your qualifications and make yourself a more attractive candidate for medical school.    

If you are taking some time off before going to medical school, consider getting a job doing research, working in a lab as a technician or working in a health clinic. Getting involved in volunteer work is also a productive way to spend your time during a gap year. There are hundreds of institutions and organizations that need volunteers including the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross.

Travel: There is nothing wrong with wanting a year off between college and medical school to travel and enjoy yourself. Medical school is intense, and when you add in residency, you may be in training for a minimum of seven to eight more years. Busy workloads and a tight budget may make travel a little challenging during those years. Taking some time to enjoy life, see the world and have new experiences can be a great way to enjoy your gap year.

Reenergize: You made it through four years of college, which is an accomplishment. Whether college was a breeze or you worked extremely hard for your degree, you may be a little burnt-out from assignments, studying and finals. Maybe the thought of going right into more school work feels overwhelming. A little breathing room between college and medical school can be just what you need. Taking a year off to do something else and take a break from school can energize you. It also gives you a little time to mature and help you decide on your career goals.

Drawbacks to a gap year

It may seem like taking a break between college and medical school could only be a positive thing. Although—in many instances—taking a gap year may be the right choice, there can be a few potential drawbacks, such as the following:

Losing focus: It is possible to take a year off between college and medical school and fall into some type of job that causes you to put medical school on hold indefinitely. Staying focused on your ultimate goals can help prevent this from happening.

Going broke: Enjoying your time off is great, but avoid using all your money in the process. Going into medical school with lots of credit card debt and no money can derail your plans.

Tips

Develop a plan: Develop a plan for how you want to spend your time before going to med school. Start planning for your gap year before you graduate college.

Have a timetable: Decide in advance whether you are taking a year or two off and stick to the plan. Having a timetable may help you stay on track.

Use your time wisely: Spending a gap year doing something you find challenging or exciting is beneficial. Spending the time playing video games or working in a job you don’t enjoy is not very helpful. Take advantage of this time—you don’t get it back!

If you can swing it, taking a little time off between college and medical school can be a great idea. It can be both professionally and personally rewarding. A gap year gives you the chance to prepare for the commitment and rigors of medical school.  Just be sure to have an idea of what you want to accomplish during your gap year, stay focused on your goals, and enjoy the time.   

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