Time off between undergrad and medical school is a great opportunity for exploration and self-discovery as well as a chance to improve your candidacy for medical school. More and more, students are choosing to pursue career/research/volunteering interests before starting medical school, and admissions committees in turn are interested in learning about what you are up to during these so-called “gap” years. We at ProspectiveDoctor would like to provide some guidance on having a successful gap year free of resume gaps.
Whether you need time to study for the MCAT or boost your GPA, require inspiration to satisfactorily articulate your motivation for medicine, or simply want to experience something new before diving back into school – there are plenty of reasons to wait at least a year after graduating before starting medical school. A plan will help you make the most of this time and help prevent any last-minute panic when you actually begin applying.
Get your application ducks in a row
Try to map out the timing of your application. Major factors to consider include taking your MCAT and any additional coursework, asking for letters of recommendation, and putting together your application. Account for travel, work, and other time when you will not realistically be able to work on your application.
Make sure that your planned time off includes an MCAT test date that provides you sufficient time to study. Remember that the MCAT testing dates for a given year are from late January to mid-September. Register early to ensure a desirable date and location. If you have already taken your MCAT, make sure that your scores will still be valid when you plan to apply. Some schools will not accept MCAT scores that are more than three years old.
Review your transcript and determine whether you have satisfied premedical coursework requirements (you can generally check this through your school’s premedical association website and cross-reference with the requirements listed by schools you plan to apply to), and whether or not you need to supplement your GPA with additional classes. Enter your courses into a BCPM (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics) GPA calculator for a true estimate of the GPA that will be reported on your primary application (the AMCAS). Take advantage of the resources offered by your undergraduate institution by talking to a premed advisor about your grades if you are unsure whether additional coursework is needed. If it is, make sure you know when the courses are offered at a local community college or through a post-bac program.
Before you leave school, make sure to request letters of recommendation from your faculty. Even if you do not plan to submit your applications right away, your school’s career services center or premedical office will generally keep the letters on file. Alternatively, they can be stored electronically using a service such as interfolio.com. If you plan to take additional coursework, consider also asking the professors teaching those classes for letters.
Demonstrate your commitment to a career in medicine
Though you will be taking time “off” from strictly academic pursuits, you must show admissions committees that you have thoughtfully considered your choice to apply to medical school. Volunteering, research, and other work in health-related fields during your time off are a great ways to demonstrate that you are committed.
Consider both clinical and non-clinical volunteer work, explore international opportunities, or continue volunteering that you have been doing all along, but assume more responsibility.
Work and/or research in health-related fields (policy, pharmaceuticals, hospital administration, a health-data iPhone app, etc.) will teach you more about the field you plan to enter, and give you something to write about in your application. It may help you explain why you want to be a doctor, or steer you towards unexplored avenues in basic science or entrepreneurship that you had never before considered. A mentor, a great recommendation, or publications are potential perks of these pursuits that that will augment your application.
Do something you love
Finally, give yourself the freedom to do something you love. Spend time with your family, go to bars with your friends, learn to bake pies, join a co-ed ultimate Frisbee league, or read sci-fi novels. Your gap year should be about more than bolstering your chances to get into medical school. Successful time off invigorates you so that you can come back to medical school rested, focused, and excited to begin.