Sometimes a ‘gap year’ isn’t a year at all. Sometimes it’s more than one year; sometimes it’s less. No matter the case, the period of time between your graduation from college and the time you begin med school can offer a ton of value.
The idea of a gap year sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? A year reprieve following a grueling and competitive four years of science courses and finals. Well, don’t let the label fool you. While gap years can (and should) be spent taking time to reflect and recover mentally, it is certainly not a time to be idle.
Your gap year is the perfect time to bolster your med school applications. While it may be tempting to kick back and play rec league basketball, travel and surf, and then gloss over this leisure time with a thin veneer of short-term medical experiences, it’s not worth it. Admissions committees are comprised of smart, experienced individuals and they will easily be able to see through this wasted time.
In this post, we’ll discuss some good uses of your gap year with activities that will actually add value to your application.
Additional Coursework and GPA Boosting
Although you may have already graduated and have your bachelor’s degree in hand, jumping right back into the fire isn’t the worst idea. Again, your gap year should be spent becoming a stronger med school candidate, and improving your GPA while tacking on some additional courses that your target schools consider optional is time well spent.
Of course, if you go this route of continued schooling through post-bacc classes, you need to make sure you’re all in and hyper-focused on getting an ‘A’ in your classes. Completing extra courses for the sake of just doing so won’t be enough. The point is to improve your GPA, and generally, the only way to do this is through nailing a top grade in the class.
Thus, if you choose to pursue extracurricular courses in an effort to boost your GPA and prove to admissions deans that you’ve crushed your hard sciences, keep your course load light – maybe even just one or two courses at a time. This will allow you to focus your attention on these specific classes like a laser and nail that grade you need.
Similar to completing a few extra courses, spending your gap year improving your MCAT score isn’t a bad play either.
Say you scored a 510 on your first go round, but you really wanted that 515, which would open up the door to a bunch more of your target med schools based on average MCAT scores of applicants. In that case, that’s a very doable goal and time well spent.
There are a ton of MCAT prep courses on the market, including the top-rated MCAT Self Prep course if you want to try a more independent approach to prepping. If your first prep course or study approach couldn’t get you over that 510 hump, maybe consider trying a new one.
In any event, time spent studying for and improving your MCAT score is a worthwhile cause, and you won’t be punished by admissions panels if that’s how you choose to spend your time. In fact, combining an MCAT re-take with a post-bacc course or two (as suggested above) can be a powerful combo.
One of the absolute best uses of your time during a gap year is acquiring meaningful and relevant medical experience. Adding some pertinent work or volunteer experience to your application can be a true value add.
One key thing to note, however, is that sporadic, short-term experiences will not get the job done. Short, transitory volunteer gigs just don’t impress. Admissions committees want to see sustained experience that gave you a true opportunity to learn and grow as a future physician.
My best suggestion – try working for AMR or another ambulance company as a paramedic for a year. For one, this will give you direct observation of the fast-paced environment of emergency medicine, potentially solidifying or making you question your choice to pursue medicine.
Second, this type of medical experience is absolutely on point, and admissions committees will eat it up.
And lastly, working for a year as a paramedic offers a good opportunity to make some money and pay down undergrad loans (or save up for med school loans) before embarking on the expensive med school journey.
Honestly, I know that becoming a paramedic and hooking on with an ambulance company for a year doesn’t sound like the optimal use of your likely gifted mind and skills, but it is a great option to consider. Between the relevant experience and ability to save up, it has the potential to be a game changer.
Most med school candidates are much more tempted to shadow a physician for an extended period than to take a lower level medical job, like being a CNA or paramedic. And I don’t disagree – shadowing a doctor can be a great experience. However, the only thing I will say with this proposition is: good luck finding one.
Shadowing opportunities are incredibly difficult to find and land. Even if you know a physician personally, many of them are limited to offering up such opportunities by hospital system rules and privacy laws.
More likely, if you want something that is more mentally stimulating within the realm of medical experience, trying finding a job in a lab. Admissions committees love seeing lab or research facility experience. Again, these jobs are tougher to come by than paramedic and medical assistant jobs (currently in high demand), but if you can land a solid lab assistant gig, it may be worth its weight in gold.
It doesn’t really matter how you use your gap year, so long as you are being productive. If you try to cover up a year spent backpacking through Europe with a thinly veneered story about “life experience,” it’s not going to get you far.
Apply the classic smell test to your time spent. If you know your time was spent productively, bettering yourself as a med school candidate and as a future doctor, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
John graduated summa cum laude from the University of San Diego School of Law and holds both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Masters in Accounting from San Diego State University.
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