Deciding to take a gap year can be a tricky decision. On the one hand, you might want to start residency as soon as possible to begin your medical career (and make some money!). On the other hand, a gap year can be helpful for your professional development and residency application. If you’re considering a gap year, here are some great reasons to take one and options for how to optimize your time.
What are some reasons to take a gap year?
- You aren’t sure what specialty you want to apply into. A gap year can be a great time to explore research or volunteer experiences in different fields to help you make your decision. You can start to find mentorship in various specialties and delay having to apply until you are sure about your career path.
- You are applying into a very competitive specialty (or you feel like your CV has some weak areas). For some specialties, like dermatology or neurosurgery, a research year is expected to demonstrate sufficient interest and academic rigor for the specialty. However, if you are applying into any specialty and feel that you a weaker application, a gap year can be a way to distinguish yourself for the next application cycle.
- You have non-clinical interests you’d like to explore further before residency. If you are particularly interested in an additional degree, exploring basic science or clinical research, or volunteering for a public health organization, a gap year is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in some of your non-clinical interests that might be harder to pursue during a busy residency.
- You are feeling burned out. After the first 3 years of medical school and your Step exams, you may be feeling weary of medical school. If you do not feel ready to start residency, a gap year can allow you to take a breather and try some other interests for a while.
- An amazing opportunity comes your way. There are a million other reasons to take a gap year. If you have the opportunity to work abroad, volunteer with a government agency or study something that fascinates you…whatever it is that excites you. If you have a compelling reason to take a gap year, go for it!
Now that you’ve decided to do it, what can you do with your gap year?
- Research year – This is one of the most traditional approaches to the gap year. You can pursue basic science, clinical, translational, epidemiological, medical education, or public health research. It can be an amazing way to find mentorship, develop new skills (lab techniques, statistical methods, study design, etc), and build your CV for residency. And it can lead to some very helpful letters of recommendation for residency!
- Additional degree – Many people pursue an additional degree during medical school. There are options for 1-year Master’s programs in public health, business, clinical sciences, bioethics, narrative medicine, medical education, etc. Explore what the options are through your medical school (or even going away to another institution). You can gain skills that will benefit you throughout your career and help you figure out what that career might be.
- Volunteerism/Advocacy – Some medical students spend a year working for nonprofit organizations abroad, volunteering with a public health organization, or working in public policy on advocacy work. Any of these can lead to incredible experiences and future job opportunities if you love working in these settings.
- Something else entirely – If you can dream it, you can probably design a novel gap year experience. Just make sure you can explain in your residency application why you took the time – you don’t want to say you spent a year watching Netflix!
Good luck! If you need help figuring out what to do with your gap year, please reach out to us for help.