Gap Year for Medical Students: Should You Take One?

What is a gap year? The Gap Year Association explains it as a semester or year of “experiential learning” to improve your “practical, professional, and personal awareness.” Some young adults take a gap year between high school and college — somewhere around 20%, according to some research. As a pre-med student, you might be considering taking a gap year before starting medical school. You might even consider it during medical school. Is this a wise idea? Let’s explore!

What are Some Reasons to Take a Gap Year?

If you’re considering taking a gap year before or during medical school, one of the most important things is to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. A gap year isn’t a leisurely vacation. It should be used strategically. Here are a few potential reasons to take one:

  • Gaining clinical experience: This will be especially beneficial for IMGs, to demonstrate to residency program directors that they’re knowledgeable in current medical practices. 
  • Completing clinical research: If you can perform research in the specialty you’re considering pursuing, that’s even better.
  • Volunteering: This is not only a great opportunity to learn but also demonstrates that you have a passion for caring for others. Plus, volunteering can be a good networking opportunity.
  • Pursuing a secondary degree.
IMG volunteer during gap year from medical school

What about taking a gap year for personal reasons? Is that an option? Yes! If something serious comes up in your personal life that you feel you have to address, do so. Also, remember that burnout is real. If you need a year off to care for your mental health, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just be sure that you’re prepared to explain that year off in a way that demonstrates that you used it in a powerful and meaningful way.

As a medical student/professional, you should use a gap year for something that’s going to contribute to your profession, provide value, and help you stand out. This is why, when treated appropriately, a gap year can be an incredible experience.

The Drawbacks of a Gap Year

However, if not managed properly, taking a gap year could present certain disadvantages. For starters, it can be very expensive — especially because it means that you’re delaying getting a physician’s salary (and progressing through the rest of your timeline) by another year.

Can you avoid these drawbacks? To a degree, yes. It all goes back to what we mentioned earlier about using your gap year strategically and in a way that’ll ultimately contribute to your education and career. And as is usually the case, you want to be sure to have a backup plan. Sometimes, things don’t go as we anticipate.

A gap year, when utilized properly, can be a valuable part of your experience as an IMG. Another crucial part of your journey is your clinical clerkship. How can you find the right clerkship to help you eventually position yourself as a competitive residency candidate? C.H.H.A. can help. If you’re interested in our clinical clerkships, apply now, or contact us with any questions.

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