When I started college, for about a minute I had considered being pre-med. I mean, nearly 1/3 of our school intended to pursue medicine and our school was a powerhouse research institution. I will admit, considering the idea of taking a gap year (or two, or five) was the equivalent of not being serious about medical school. In fact, amongst the pre-meds, it was admitting defeat. You can see why quickly I didn’t affiliate with my fellow pre-meds.
When I tell my friends about this, many of whom are on the admissions committee at the best institutions across the country, they are perplexed that this is the culture. More and more are med students taking gap years. Adcoms (admissions committees) not only see it as a way to stand out but also they see it as providing a perspective that will diversify their class. They also see it as a chance for students to show that, despite taking time off, getting into the real world, making money, that they are serious about committing to pursuing medicine. Essentially, it shows that despite the time commitment, lost proximal income, and spending what many consider the best years of our lives in the library, that there is nothing else besides medicine as a career choice.
So don’t rule out taking time off yet. In fact, I’d encourage it. Even if you know you want to pursue medicine, consider taking a few years to do whatever you want. It doesn’t even have to be related to medical school. Because once you’re in, you’re in. There aren’t many opportunities in medical school, residency, or beyond to take time off to pursue your interests. Do you want to travel? Do it! A great way to travel is by Being an au pair in America which will even allow you to earn some pocket money. Teach? Absolutely! Sing off broadway, or start your own small business? Go for it! None of these need to have any connection to medicine. Because in all honestly, time does not stop for medical school.
Some of my best friends in my class went straight from college, and that was the right decision for them. And if you find that is true for yourself, go for it. But if there is anything that you want to try out before, do consider it. There are no consequences. It does not stop your chance at pursuing a longer residency (this coming from a guy pursuing 7 years of training after medical school).
Taking 5 years off cemented in my mind why I could only see myself in medicine. Working as a teacher, I saw that the biggest way for me to make a direct impact was through medicine. It gave me a why, as Simon Sinek says (check out his TED Talk called The Golden Circle). And that why is what gets me through the long nights of studying. In fact, it makes all of medical school a lot easier.