As a former pre-med student, I remember grappling with the idea of taking time off between undergrad and medical school. I was 100% sure that I wanted to pursue medicine so the thought of delaying my application was agonizing to me. In the end, I ended up taking one year off to work and I definitely do not regret the experience. In fact, I wish I had taken a few more years off before starting medical school. Here are some of the reasons why I would advocate for this:
- It’s a great opportunity to get some real world work experience. I feel like many student jobs are sheltered and having a real full-time job that doesn’t cut you any slack is a good way to toughen up. In medical school you might not be dealing with the most understanding people (which is a huge dilemma for another discussion) and it can be a somewhat jarring experience when you are transitioning from undergrad. I had an instance in med school where I had difficulty getting back after winter break due to the infamous ‘Polar vortex’ and I can tell you that not a single person cared about how much difficulty I had with canceled flights/trains/buses and severely icy driving conditions. Having previously worked for a scribe company that wanted you in the hospital unless you were actively febrile/vomiting, I was a little less traumatized by the ‘do or die’ attitude.
- Your experiences will be meaningful in medical school and residency interviews. It’s somewhat obvious that your experiences before medical school will be topics of conversation in your medical school interview. The medical school application process is already severely competitive with many qualified applicants and schools are always looking for people who have a 3-dimensional personality. If you have interesting hobbies or activities in your repertoire that make you easier to relate to, you have a lot going for you as a medical school applicant. One thing I was concerned about is that I had a decent amount of extracurriculars before starting medical school but I became a lot less active after. The coursework was overwhelming for me at certain times and I didn’t find that I had too much extra time to engage in my community like before. HOWEVER, I was very surprised on the interview trail this past year when programs gave importance to the activities I took part in before-hand. I was never made to feel inadequate for not having ventured much out of my studies in medical school and I am thankful I had the time to get some of these experiences before-hand.
- You can explore a different field of work other than medicine. This was a really big deal for me. Everything I did in undergrad was oriented towards science and medicine and I honestly enjoyed it all. After graduation I continued with my scribe job for a little bit before I decided to quit (long story). I wanted to secure a job as a research assistant of some sort but those positions were a bit difficult to come by when I was looking. I then came across an ad for AmeriCorps (specifically with the Minnesota Math Corps) and decided to apply because I’ve always enjoyed teaching. It was an extremely tough job that pushed me far out of my comfort zone. While I know that working in a school isn’t what I would choose as a career (I have IMMENSE appreciation for those who do), I had the opportunity to do cool things like create and host a math camp, teach a cooking class and conduct parent-teacher conferences! I had a good time trying different things and I am glad I had the chance to explore something outside my field.
- You’re only young once. Seriously though. It was amazing to have an entire year where I could do whatever I wanted on the weekends without worrying about an exam or a project. It’s a great time to travel and explore your interests! During undergrad I had missed out on so many family gatherings on the weekends because of Organic Chemistry lab reports or Physics exams and it was absolutely refreshing to wake up on Saturdays and not have a to-do list weighing over my head.
- The biggest one of all: You can think about if medicine is really for you. During your time off, do you feel yourself pining for the opportunity to be in cadaver lab? Or do you find your interests in life shifting a little towards things outside of medicine? In our class, I believe somewhere around 5-10 people dropped out within the first month. I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for those people and though I didn’t know any of them personally, I wonder if any of them had second thoughts about medical school that they had just suppressed. There are so many awesome careers one could pursue and you should pick the one that makes you happy!
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