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Gap Years before Medical School

Why you might need time off from school

By Spencer Evans

College… Medical school… Internship… Residency… Fellowship… 

… Advanced fellowship… Super advanced fellowship… Super-duper advanced fellowship…

Okay, I made up those last ones. But, let’s be honest, many of us pre-meds have developed psychological defense mechanisms to ease the worries that accompany imagining a decade of professional training before becoming an Attending.

Thankfully, most of us will be enrolling in medical school because, more than anything in the world, we want to become doctors. In other words… Time commitment – shmime commitment!

Nevertheless, the path to becoming a physician is still a long journey with seemingly not much time for rest along the way. So, how can we be sure that we’re making the most of our days before embarking on this epic saga? 

My vote: Gap years.

The key for these gap years is to find that perfect something that is both fun and will enhance your application.

After graduating college, I chose to spend two and a half years in a clinical research position at Boston Children’s Hospital. This nine-to-five job was ideal as it provided me with additional exposure to the medical field, and also allowed me an opportunity to complete my outstanding pre-med requirements at night. My employer also paid for these career development classes. As you’ll soon read, this $ came in handy, big time. Once I got Physics 1 and 2 out of the way, I used my free time after work and on the weekends to hone my other passion, screenwriting. 

I also always wanted to experience the adventures of a solo-traveler. Thus, I am currently spending a majority of the latter half of my final gap year as a backpacker. I backpacked through Asia for two months, and am now doing the same through South America!

This type of travel is 100% as incredible as people say it is. There is an entire world of solo backpackers out there. Believe it or not, even though you’re “traveling alone,” you’ll end up spending more time with other amazing travelers than you will by yourself.  Not to mention, the freedom of being able to dictate every aspect of your entire trip is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. 

Extended travel during gap years is a lot easier if you spend a part of your gap years working a full time job and can save up some $mullah$. However, there are also a lot of websites that provide opportunities to earn money remotely, or step in for odd jobs in the city in which you are staying.  And, countries in Southeast Asia like Thailand and Cambodia are quite cheap by Western standards — hostels are about $7 a night. A lot of these hostels also offer a free bed, free meals, and some cash to travelers who stick around and help out with the day-to-day of the hostel.

If I could enjoy another gap year, and I have seriously considered this route, I would opt for a year teaching English abroad. I actually nearly applied for an awesome opportunity like this in Japan for my third gap year. However, I did not want to be out of the country during interview season and have to pay for flights back and forth to the USA.  But, during my travels, I met a lot of Americans who were teaching English abroad. They raved about the life-changing experiences that accompanied a year of living in a foreign country. 

FOMO, anyone?

One of the biggest issues facing medicine today is physician burnout – a true shame because medicine is such a beautiful field. Perhaps by giving yourself a little extra time to explore your curiosities before becoming a doctor, you’ll wind up helping yourself, and your patients, more than you think!

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