Wait a year or proceed directly to med school?

December 5, 2008 —

Recently I have been talking with some of my senior undergraduate friends about the medical school application process. A lot of them have submitted through AACOMAS and/or AMCAS and are starting to fill out the secondary forms and schedule interviews. As a veteran of that process, they have come to me asking for advice about what to. To be honest, that kind of advice is rather cursory. The questions I prefer to answer are those regarding taking a year or two off before medical school.

When I was an undergraduate student I assumed the most common progression was to go immediately to medical school after receiving a B.A. or B.S. The more people in medical school I get to know, however, the less this assumption seems correct. Many students take a year or two (in some cases almost a decade) off between undergraduate and graduate schooling. I would speculate that the students who came in immediately undergrad are in the minority (though this is complete speculation and not based on any scientific studies…haha).

I was fortunate enough to be granted a teaching position in China for a year in between so I am one of those students that took some time off. In my opinion, it was a much needed break from the hectic maelstrom that is formal education. It allowed me to think about what I actually wanted to do with my life and to get some real world experience under my belt. Opinions aside, I think it would be good to look at the pros and cons of taking a year off.

1. Gain real world experience. If you are like me, then you grew up in a small town and went to a relatively small undergrad institution. I know that coming from this background I was pretty naïve about the real world. A lot of people do not fit into this rural-naïve persona, but still don’t understand what it is like to function outside of structured education with structured extracurricular activities. I am not saying this is bad. These individuals, however, may find medical school a bit daunting. There are many opportunities available to gain real world experience (always a plus in interviews). You could go abroad for year; there are thousands of ESL positions abroad that simply require native English speaking and a college degree. You could join a program such as Teach for America and experience inner-city or extreme rural situations. You could join a company like Lead America to help put together educational/leadership programs for high school and middle school students. The main downside of this option (if you can call it that) is that you may find a passion outside of medicine, but then you may find something you really enjoy.

2. Travel abroad. Taking a year or so off can give you the opportunity to travel abroad. If you didn’t have a chance to do this in undergrad, do it now. You may find you love it and know you want to pursue it when in med. school. If so, you’re in luck – DMU has one of the best international programs of any medical school. They were the first during my application process to even mention opportunities abroad. In the four months I have been here, there have already been application processes for service trips to Uganda and El Salvador. In addition, many speakers have come to discuss their service projects abroad. There are also several opportunities to do international rotations in your rotation years.

3. Discover what you really want to do. This goes along a lot with gaining real world experience. Medical school is very intensive and can be very straining on relationships with friends and family. For some, taking a year off is needed to get everything in order before hurricane medical school begins. For some, taking time off make them decide not to continue with formal education, which in the end means it wasn’t right for you.

What it comes down to it, if you want to take a year off, go for it. It can only help you in the application process. If you feel you are ready to jump right in and get your feet wet right after college, there are many that will be by your side to help and support you. Best of luck!

In closing, I would like to point out that I am 2.5 weeks and 6 exams away from being one-eighth of the way to obtaining that degree!!! (I’m sorry if that sounds complicated and meaningless, but I take what I can get).


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