For a lot of people, going straight to med school after undergrad is a must, but this wasn’t the case for me. Honestly, by the time I graduated I was over school. I had worked my butt off in my major and was very successful in the end. Med school was still the goal, but I just wanted some time off.
Taking a gap was a no brainer for me because 1) I still had to take the MCAT, 2) I wanted to get some more research experience outside of my undergrad institution and 3) I wanted to travel and relax. I was fortunate enough to get a job offer at NYU School of Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics about two weeks before I graduated from college. I started a little over a month later and was so blessed to not have to worry about looking for a job.
People often ask me what they should do during a gap year and the best advice I can give is to find something productive and also make it a priority to accomplish any personal goals that you may not have had time for during college. Even if you get accepted during the gap year, medical schools will want to know what you were up to during that time “off” and they tend to favor candidates who are a little older and are sure that medicine is the right field for them. Show them what you a passionate about or be to explain that you explored particular opportunities. During the application process, I was asked what I would be doing before school starts and because I had a plan, it was an easy question to answer.
As much as you might want to sleep and watch Netflix for six months straight (it definitely crossed my mind a couple times), take some time to figure out what you want to be involved in. This can be a good time to work on parts of your med school application that you feel you may be lacking or get some experience in the medical field. You can shadow a physician in the field you are interested in, become a medical scribe or EMT if you want more clinical experience. I also suggest applying for research assistant jobs in labs or clinics or even volunteering for a cause you are passionate about! If you have no idea where to start, go to your professors because they may have relationships at different institutions and be able to put you in contact with the right people. Go to the AAMC website for some more ideas if you feel stuck. Also, check out this program for a 1-2 year research fellowships at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Brown University listed some programs specifically geared towards minority students (check them out here). I highly encourage everyone to apply!
The most important part of my gap years- I ended up taking two years because of how the application cycles are set up- was being able to spend time with my family, catch up with friends, and travel. I went to LA, London, Paris, Sierra Leone, Seattle, and Miami and it was nice to have the freedom and finances to do so.
All of this is to say, don’t feel pressured to go straight to med school if you don’t want to. If you want to work and make some money, conduct research, or travel please do it! This is your life and you will be sacrificing a lot once you continue your medical journey. There may be people who don’t understand that you would like to take a break before giving your life to medicine. And if you are planning on going straight in that’s cool too- what matters is that you do what works for you.
I accomplished so many of my personal goals during this time and it made me more ready for school. I had times when I was broke, but the memories I created are priceless.