Gap years are incredibly popular options for pre-meds. If you’ve taken one, you know how much the year can help your medical school application. But how do you use the gap year experience to enhance your medical school application? Dr. Ruby S. Thomas shares his thoughts below.

You may have taken a year off to work or to do a postbacculaureate program. Maybe you’re coming to medicine later in life after starting a family or changing careers.

Whatever the case may be, you may not be considered a traditional medical school applicant, but you’ve made it this far in your quest to become a doctor and you’ve been granted an interview. Now what?

Here are a few tips to help you to knock your interview out of the park as a nontraditional applicant.

Be honest about your gap year.

Being a good student and academically sound is important, but ultimately, you are studying to become a physician and integrity is one of the most important qualities you can have. It may be tempting to gloss over some of the more unflattering details of your history, but in an interview it’s best to proactively discuss any perceived weaknesses in your application. The admissions committee has already noted these flaws and by ignoring them, it makes you appear that you are hiding something. A more reliable strategy is to discuss your weak areas, and follow up with what you learned from these experiences and what you would do differently in the future. For example, if you had to take the MCAT twice, don’t ignore the fact that you failed initially. State that you didn’t do as well as you would’ve liked and have since proactively sought out resources to help you improve your performance. You can then translate this experience to how you plan to use what you have learned to prepare for your USMLE exams.

Translate your experiences during your gap year

You may not be a 23-year old new graduate, ready to take on medical school right out of college, and that’s okay. For whatever reason that you have had to delay the medical school application process, it has undoubtedly taught you some valuable life lessons. If you’ve been raising a family, then you’ve learned the value of time management and organization. If you’ve been working, then you understand the importance of teamwork. If you’ve struggled academically, then you know how to be resourceful and seek out extra help to improve your grades. These are all skills that are important to being a good medical student and good physician. It’s important to think of your skills and experience outside of studying that you may have acquired and how it translates to your role as a future physician. Be sure to highlight these during your interview.

Embrace your differences

I distinctly remember one of my medical school interviews. I was a young black woman interviewing at a majority institution in the South. I remember being the only brown face, with natural hair, wearing a tan suit in a sea of white males in black suits. I was coming from a historically black college and university, my academic record was great, and my MCAT scores were decent. I felt confident in my application.

That confidence allowed me to embrace the things that made me different instead of shrinking from them. I answered questions honestly and I chose to be myself when it may have been more comfortable for others in the room for me to conform. I was accepted to the medical school, although I chose to go do a different one.

So, whatever your differences are from more traditional applicants or those that haven’t taken a gap year, embrace them. It may be race, age, or life experience, but these are the qualities that make you unique. Of course, you should dress appropriately and be well groomed, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. This will help you stand out among hundreds of other applicants vying for the small number of student slots from year to year.

Medical school isn’t in the practice of making robots. The goal is to make students into exceptional and compassionate physicians who will serve humankind. Being nontraditional may be an asset to you in your medical career, so don’t be afraid to let your differences shine in the interview process.

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