How do med students go about getting the most of gap years? If you’re considering a gap year before applying for medical school, you gotta make it count. You’ll need to spend your time filling any holes in your application. Here are some solid gap year ideas to get you going…

Use gap year to volunteer in medical settings

This falls under “extracurriculars” in your med school application, and is best if you have 100’s of hours of it. Getting the most of gap years means keeping close records of the hours you spend for inclusion in your application. This includes clinics, physician’s offices, hospitals, hospice, even a PA or PT office. The contacts you make here may be golden for your letters of recommendation (LORs). Paid experience is also valuable.

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Do post-bacc work or a SMP during gap years to boost GPA on med school application

There are lots of post-bacc programs out there—one and two year—where you can load up on valuable higher level science classes. Another option for getting the most of gap years is a special master’s program (SMP; usually only one year) that focuses on the sciences. This is a good way to boost your GPA since it may even overlap some medical school classes, and in the case of some programs, can give you a leg up on getting into a particular school. You’ll be meeting valuable contacts who may be willing to write you a LOR at the end of your experience.

Get shadowing experience during gap year with variety of physicians

If you didn’t have the time during undergrad to fully flesh out your interest in a future specialty, you’re not alone. Shadowing is a great way for getting the most of gap years and at the same time, getting a feel for different types of medical practices and specialties. Use any contacts you may have—from professors to parents—to arrange shadowing opportunities. I’d recommend a minimum of five specialties, and a total of 50-100 total hours. Keep good records here for your med school application.

Use your gap year to get research on your resume

One of ways of getting the most of gap years is participating in medical-related research. If you’re located near a university, check with your science profs and offer to volunteer on a research project. Most universities have plenty going on in this arena. Lots of opportunities only require a few hours a week, but the consistency of working on one project (especially if it’s published at the end) for a full year will give you great experience with potentially direct application to your future in medicine. As with previous recommendations, this one will also likely yield great results as you’re seeking LOR writers who know you well.

Get a MPH degree during 1-2 gap years

If you have the interest, getting a MPH degree prior to medical school will give you special knowledge and skills in health policy and management, epidemiology, global health, infectious disease, environmental health and public health laws. This makes you a great candidate for jobs in public health and policy, as well as residencies with greater emphasis on research and public health. Again, the work you do here will give you great contacts to write your LORs and be a valuable way for getting the most of gap years.

Use gap year to study for the MCAT

Having ample time for study is the only way to truly prepare for the MCAT. If you were too overwhelmed to study during school, or could only fit it in at the end of your senior year, a gap year could be a great benefit. Allowing a more single-minded focus should help you get the score you want and need.

Get a little R&R during your gap year!

Among all the ideas for getting the most of gap years mentioned here, this could prepare you almost as well as the other activities for the grueling years ahead. It’s probably one of your last opportunities to do some unencumbered travel and indulging in a restorative hobby. While interviewing, you don’t necessarily need to focus on your time in the Caribbean, but instead take the time to explain that you took the year off to prepare (academically, experience-wise, financially, etc.) for the rigors of medical school.

In addition to these gap year ideas, check out our quick answer to the question: “Is a gap year a good idea?” here.

Or check out these other posts:

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