I’d say that this is a question that passes the minds of most premeds at some point during undergrad. A gap year (or years) is a period of time that you decide to put off applying to medical school after you receive your bachelors degree.  Whether you want to boost your application with more grades or a stronger MCAT score, you want to gain work/volunteer experience, or you just need a break from academics to avoid burn out, a gap year could be right for you!

I'll be honest, taking a gap year wasn't always written in my grand master plan. I've had dreams of becoming a doctor since elementary school (as evidenced by my 2nd grade class journal entries about being a "kids doctor" and drawings of lab coat clad stick figures…I was an interesting kid), and when I was graduating from high school, I was absolutely sure that I would be taking the "traditional" route. This meant four years of undergrad immediately followed by four years of medical school. I was 18, riding on the high of being accepted to several competitive programs (including a BS/MD program), and I had never really been challenged by academics before. 

The transition to college was tough to say the least. As a freshman, I struggled to adjust to the rigor of the coursework while also being away from my family for the first time, and feeling lost in a sea of 400 other students in lectures. Throughout the early part of my college career, I always remained on the pre-medical track, but there were definitely times where I questioned whether I was even capable of pursuing medicine and whether I wanted to do it any more. Each time I questioned myself or thought about pursuing another career, I always came back full circle to my dream: I wanted to be a physician and I was going to do whatever it took to get there. I pushed myself, figured out my learning style, adapted to the pressure, and perhaps most importantly, learned to ask for help. I became confident in myself and I was able to turn it around, but I knew I would need more time if I was going to present my strongest possible application for medical school. 

Although I didn’t originally plan to take a gap year, it became a natural and necessary part of my progression. Full disclosure-> I wasn't thrilled about it at first. Like I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t written into my meticulous little life plan that my 18 year old self envisioned. 

Today, I happen to be about a week away from ending my gap year experience as an AmeriCorps member for a community health center, and I seriously could not be more grateful that my path led me here. (I will elaborate on my AmeriCorps experience as well as other gap year options in a future post.) Not only did this year allow me to have the time I felt I needed to be a successful MD applicant, I have learned a lot about myself, grew as a person (even semi-figured out adulting lol), and clarified my career goals. I also had time to have some fun! 

So, is a gap year for you? Even if you’re on the fence about it, I would say go for it

It’s an opportunity unlike any other you will have in your lifetime and it’s becoming more and more desirable among medical school applicants. In fact, the average age of matriculation for first year medical students is 24. With such a competitive pool of future doctors, it can be challenging to make yourself stand out from the crowd and a gap year can help with that. Speaking from personal experience, admissions folks LOVE talking about your gap year and how it has influenced you. Even though my original reason for deciding to take one was that I wanted to have my senior year grades and activities to strengthen my application, I wouldn't have traded this past year for the world and I believe that it really bolstered my application overall. 

If you choose the right employment, volunteer, or research experience, a gap year (or years!) will not only be a fantastic way to enhance your competitiveness as an applicant, it will also do wonders for your personal and professional growth as a future physician. 

If you have taken a gap year in the past, are planning to take one in the future, or maybe you decided not to, leave a comment! I'd love to hear about how you made your decision!