As a sophomore in college, I was sure I wanted to go into the medical field. So sure, that I took a gamble and took the MCAT before the new changes were initiated in 2015. At that time, I was determined to go straight from college to medical school, residency, and finally to my career. I was in a rush to get into the workforce and begin working in the career that I was so excited about. However, in the Spring of my Junior year of college, I started to panic. I wondered if medicine was really for me. I was supposed to be submitting my applications in a few months and yet I wasn’t certain that medicine was correct for me. So I made the choice to take a gap year, very much against my parent’s wishes.
My parent’s first question to me was, “What are you going to do for a year?” My gut answer was, “I’m going to go study sharks in the Bahamas.” For someone who thought they were so dedicated to the medical field, this answer came out of nowhere. My initial decision to take a gap year was because I wanted to have the opportunity do something that I would never have the chance to do again. The summer before my senior year of college, I spent 3 weeks in the Bahamas in a field study course on the ecology of sharks at one of the leading marine research facilities in the world, and I fell in love with the idea of going back and conducting research. Why not take a gap year, escape the brutal winter of Minnesota, and be able to wake up on a beach every day spending your “work-day” snorkeling and on a boat? I knew that medical school, residency, a full time career, and eventually hopefully having a family would interfere with this opportunity in the future.
How many of you wish you would have had time to take another class during college? Learn a foreign language? Travel to another country? Spend more time playing sports? Start a new hobby? Explore your own hometown? Volunteer? Conduct research?
So far, during my gap year I’ve had the opportunity to work as a scribe, conduct clinical research, play hockey, and travel internationally. I had time to travel for interviews instead of worrying about missing exams, missing time to study, or missing class to attend an interview day. I’ve had opportunities to experience many different specialties within medicine without having the pressure of feeling like I need to choose a specialty soon. Not only have I had experiences this year that I would not have been able to have while I was in college, it also made more time available during college to take classes I wouldn’t have otherwise and join student groups that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Without a doubt, I know taking a gap year was the right thing that I have ever done in my path to becoming a physician.
Anytime I talk with younger students considering medical school applications, my biggest advice is to take a gap year. Take the time while you’re still young and enjoy a year before devoting your time to your career and studying. This may be one of the last times in your life where you will have the time and flexibility to do many of these activities. Take the time, travel abroad, volunteer, start a new hobby. Take the time to do the activities you enjoy and are passionate about, explore the medical field, and learn more about yourself. Medical school will still be waiting when you’re ready, after a gap year or maybe after a few gap years, and you’ll have a few interesting and unique stories to tell during interviews!