Many medical school applicants do not go straight from college into medical school. If you apply to medical school during your senior year of college, you will need to take at least one year off (known as the “gap year”) prior to starting medical school. If you apply one year after graduating, you will have to take two years off. If you need to take a gap year or two or three, what are the best options for you? The following are a list of options divided into best, great, good and depends.
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- Clinical research (I would include public health research in this category as well) is one of the best options especially if you can get paid to do it and you only have one year. Publications are extremely valuable at any part of your medical training. Traditionally it is much easier to publish in clinical research than basic science research. Therefore, if you can take advantage of this year and publish, it will serve you extremely well in medical school and during your residency application.
- Working as a teacher or being part of a teaching program, such as Teach For America, is looked upon extremely favorably by medical school admissions committees. It shows leadership, volunteerism, and academic prowess. Teach For America is especially competitive and highly regarded by medical schools.
Emergency Medical Technician
- Being an EMT (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/preparing-med-school/getting-experience/) provides a great hands-on clinical experience that gives you valuable insight into pre-hospital and emergency room care. It is probably one of the most hands-on clinical experiences you can get prior to medical school.
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Medically Related Consulting
- Obtaining a medical related consulting job is difficult because they are competitive jobs and often looked upon highly by medical school. They require you to understand health systems well. Although you don’t really get clinical experience, you learn about healthcare from a systems perspective. Also, you can probably make the most money (vs the other gap year options) working as a consultant.
- Getting an advanced degree during your year off can be a gamble, especially since there is the possibility of decreasing your GPA. Nevertheless, if you getting a degree and it will be useful to you in your medical career, it may be worth it. MPH, MPP, and MBAs are often very useful whereas advanced degrees in biology or pseudo post-bacc programs are often not as useful for your career and not worth the money.
- Similar to EMTs, medical scribes (https://students-residents.aamc.org/applying-medical-school/article/what-its-be-medical-scribe/) get good hands-on clinical experience. However, it’s generally not as interesting and you don’t have the independence that EMTs have. A big advantage to being a scribe is you can develop a relationship with the physicians you scribe for, which may come in handy when you need a letter of recommendation.
- MAs, hospital jobs (ex. OR tech), and volunteering/shadowing are all in the same category because although they are valuable clinical experiences, they aren’t regarded as highly by medical school admissions committees. They also don’t have the same career utility as research positions or advanced degrees. Lastly, they generally do not pay as well.
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Basic Science Research
- As mentioned previously, it is much harder to publish as a basic science researcher. However, if you get a basic research job and you are able to publish, this could be one of the best gap year positions. Even in clinical medicine, basic science publications are highly regarded especially when applying to medical school or residency.
- How you utilize a post-bacc program can make or break whether you get into medical school. Not all post-bacc programs are created equal; some are extremely good at getting you into medical school while others are simply a waste of money. Doing a post-bacc program to boost your GPA may be an incredibly valuable use of your time but make sure you choose programs wisely.
- The value of a non-medical job depends on what type of job you get. Although working as a secretary at a law firm may help you pay the bills, it doesn’t jump out as a significant or important experience in your life that will help you get into medical school. However, starting a company, working at Google, being a professional musician, etc can all be looked upon extremely favorably. These are all significant and competitive experiences that show admissions committees that you are a smart, highly motivated individual with a broad skill-set.