Top 5 Questions about taking a gap year before medical school:
Do medical schools like gap years?
What is an effective gap year timeline?
Can I take two gap years before applying to medical school?
What should I do during my gap year before medical school?
What are the benefits of a gap year before applying to medical school?
Time away from formal academics can enhance your medical school application
Whether or not a student should take a “gap year” (or two) often comes up during our conversations with applicants to medical school. Time away from formal academics can enhance application. Based on MedEdits’ experience working with students, we find that gap years are becoming increasingly common and that this extra time away from formal academics can enhance a student’s candidacy.
The age of medical school matriculants continues to rise.
The Association of American Medical College’s (AAMC) Matriculating Student Questionnaire (MSQ) reports that more than 60% of medical school matriculants take at least one year off before medical school. While the AAMC no longer reports the average age for medical school matriculants, in 2018 the average age was 24. We are confident that average age has increased since then.
What are the advantages to this trend?
Recently, our MedEdits faculty team discussed the advantages of this trend to take time after college before matriculating into medical school. This time, in our experience, only enhances your application and may well translate into a better performance in medical school.
Here are the reasons why:
More time allows the applicant to perform the additional coursework necessary to take medical school prerequisites, demonstrate academic excellence in higher level courses, and prepare for the MCAT.
The type of medical school applicant who has become desirable to admissions committees has changed.
Also, the type of applicant who has become desirable to admissions committees has changed in favor of the individual who takes extra time before matriculation. Since the AAMC projected a physician shortage, many medical schools have expanded class size and give priority to students who not only are interested in primary care but who will practice where physicians are needed. Who will fill this need? Those from areas and backgrounds underrepresented in medicine: e.g. African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, and those who are resilient, have overcome personal hurdles and challenges and feel compelled to serve. Students from these groups, by life and academic circumstance, will likely need more time to prepare a competitive application than other applicants.
Write more compelling essays in your AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS documents and medical school secondary essays.
These emerging adults–those who have clinical, research and service experiences to reflect on, who are less self-involved, who can articulate their interests more thoroughly, and who understand the profession because they have taken the time to participate in it–write the most compelling statements and essays. And with thousands of applications to sift through, thoughtful, reflective essays lead readers to want to meet such applicants. And that often translates to an interview.
The medical school interview process itself has become more data- and assessment-driven.
The interview process itself has become more data- and assessment-driven, which also favors the applicant who takes time. In an effort to be less biased and fairer, one-third of US medical schools now use the multiple mini interview (MMI) or a hybrid that includes some MMI stations. We believe that students with more life and work experiences do best in the interview (traditional or MMI) for the obvious reasons– these students have had more practice developing the interpersonal skills that interviewers are assessing. If an interviewer leaves the encounter feeling he or she wants to teach you and medical student interviewers would welcome you as a colleague, you have done well.
Medical education has evolved toward team-based and interactive learning.
Another factor relates to how medical education has evolved toward team-based and interactive learning, with traditional tests giving way to different and nearly constant assessments: objective structured clinical examinations, clinical interviews, procedure based exams, and actual clerkship performance where you have responsibilities as a member of a clinical team. These assessments require advanced interpersonal skills and nuanced professional behavior. In fact, demonstrating professional behavior is a graduation competency at most schools–you will not graduate without it.
Accountability and responsibility in a work/team based setting.
And so, the best “professional student”–the young man or woman who has advanced through the best schools or many schools throughout his life–is not always the best medical student because he hasn’t adapted to as many environments and people as those who have had time and experience before applying to medical school. Students who have navigated different environments successfully before medical school, and those who have worked a job, are better equipped for the complex clinical arena. Accountability and responsibility in a work/team based setting are far different than accountability and responsibility in an academic setting where the stakeholder is oneself.
Time in the form of a premedical gap year or as a nontraditional student.
For these reasons, time, in the form of a gap year or as a nontraditional student, may be the best way to prepare for success in the application process for medical school.