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How To Make The Most Of A Gap Year Before Medical School?

Thinking about taking a gap year? Here are our top tips on getting the most out of it!

January 2023
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

How to make the most of a gap year before Medical School?

Sixth form is hard! But medicalschool can be even harder! So understandably, many students want to take a gap yearbefore starting medical school. It is an opportunity to take a break afteryears and years of full-time education as well as travel, read ahead, get somework experience, or get a paid job to build up your savings. This list is notexhaustive and of course, you can make it what you want it to be! Sometimes ifyour medicine application was unsuccessful one year, you may wish to take ayear out and reapply for medicine. Whatever your reason, taking a year out is often a sensible decision, as long as you make the most of it and have a plan.

What should you do during a gap year?


1.    Travel

One of the most popular (and most exciting) ways to spend your gap year is to travel! Places like Australia or SoutheastAsia are popular travel destinations however don’t feel as though you have to travel that far! Whilst these are certainly fun and interesting locations to visit, travelling Europe or even the UK can be an experience which is just as fulfilling, and one that teaches you so much that you can apply to medical school, as you have to act as a responsible adult. If you want to travel but want to do something whilst away, consider applying for internships or volunteering abroad. This can actively help your medicine application. For example, when I was applying for medicine, I spent a few weeks in India shadowing a doctor there – as work experience wasn’t particularly common in hospitals at the time, the hospital didn’t have a procedure for onboarding so I was able to shadow some doctors covering a variety of conditions and specialties. I was able to spend some time in a rural village GP surgery, which was a fantastic experience and helped my application a lot, as it gave me an understanding of the differences between healthcare in high and low income countries . If you do volunteer, I strongly recommend participating in a medically related activity or will help improve skills that are particularly valued in medicine – e.g. teaching. Even if you don’t plan on volunteering and are just going to travel, being able to demonstrate that you can organise yourself well and have other interests outside of medicine is still useful for a medical school application. Of course, travelling costs money, so what many people might consider doing is to get a job for 6 months, or a few months, then use the money earned during that tie to travel for the second half of the year. If you plan well in advance, you might also have some friends who would want to do the same thing, so consider travelling together. When you do travel, stay in hostels wherever possible, using websites like AirBnB and Kayak to get the cheapest prices. Avoid hotels if you are staying away for long periods of time to save money.

2.    Earning Money


Many students choose to take a year out to work and earn some money before going to university. Medical school is expensive, not least because it is a minimum of 5 years! Travelling, buying technology, food and going out all add up, not including accommodation costs and tuition fees. So, one way to spend your gap year is to work and get a job!Saving up some money can be a really good way to build up some funds for the forthcoming years. It also provides you with experience working as part of a team before you do it as a medical student and eventually a doctor. If this is something you are interested in, make sure to spend some time on your CV to optimise your chances of securing a job that you genuinely would like to do. If you have medical work experience or shadowing, or certifications such as first aid or aDBS check, that should be included on your CV too, as it looks good to employers. Search online for jobs that you could apply for and brush up on your interview skills (this will help with medical school interviews too if you are reapplying). Alternatively, if there is a job you would particularly like todo, directly contact the company or organisation to ask whether there are any vacancies (as sometimes there is a delay in them being advertised). I would strongly recommend considering teaching – as an A-level student with achieved grades, you can sign up to be a tutor or teacher for students who are younger than you.You have the necessary experience and knowledge to do this well, and it will help make sure you don’t forget your A-Level knowledge before starting university. It is also a very well-paid job and there is high demand!

3.    Reapplying for Medicine

As competition for medical school places continues to rise, many people applying for Medicine may not get an offer immediately. If you are in this position, please don’t worry. If Medicine is what you really want to do, take a year out and reapply (some students do a different degree then apply for graduate entry medicine, but this may be risky as graduate medicine is often more competitive than undergraduate medicine).Without school getting in the way, and once you have your A-Level results already achieved, you can focus on making a strong application. Spend your time preparing for the UCAT and/or BMAT and writing your personal statement. With more time on your hands, it is much more feasible to prepare well for these entrance exams. After this, spend some time on interview preparation to give yourself the best possible chance of getting an offer! If you would like some tips on how to prepare for the UCAT, BMAT, personal statement or interviews, explore the rest of our website for articles and practice questions!

4.    Rest!


Another (completely understandable) reason for wanting to take a gap year is to rest! This is something I wish I had considered more before I jumped straight into medical school as a Medicine course can be very intense. A gap year gives you the time to pause and recover from sixth form (and full-time education in general!)before beginning university. If your primary goal is to rest, I would caution against doing nothing at all. This could make the jump to medical school very difficult because you may lose knowledge and motivation when you start university. Rest is important, but consider doing some activities that can keep your mind active. For example, you could read ahead. Now I know, this sounds like work but it can be very helpful to get to grips with some basic Medicine knowledge – for example, basic organ anatomy and the terminology used to describe anatomical locations and also common drugs. It may also be useful to brush up on your A-level science knowledge (it is easy to forget after taking along break away from textbooks!) – especially if your course is split into pre-clinical and clinical years. You don’t need to overdo it and know everything inside out, but a little bit of reading can be very beneficial.


Alternatively, you could consider learning a new language, or getting better at an existing one! Some combine this with travel by doing language courses abroad or spending time in a country where they speak the language you are learning. Many of us do languages at school, usually until GCSE, then just forget the language with time. It might be a good opportunity to install Duolingo! Another idea is to spend the year volunteering or teaching! Again, you can combine this with travel and volunteer/teach abroad! If not, then consider spending some time volunteering in the UK. This can be in a medical/healthcare setting such as a pharmacy orGP, but it doesn’t have to be. Other places to volunteer include charity shops, homeless shelters, vets, nurseries etc. These are often very fulfilling experiences and are often quite enjoyable!

How to include your gap year in your personal statement?


If you do take a gap year and intend on (re)applying to medical school, you will want to talk about your gap year in your personal statement. One of the things medical schools look for when they notice a student took a gap year is whether you used your time productively. What did you do, why did you do it and what did you learn?Most importantly, how does this make you more suitable for medicine? So, when talking about your gap year focus more on the skills you’ve developed –depending on what your gap year comprised of, this would typically include independence, organisation and communication (particularly foreign language skills). But as normal, don’t just name-drop these skills – justify how you’ve developed them and what you did in your gap year that helped you develop these.You will also need to mention why these skills are important in medicine – this will show you understand what a career in medicine is like and that you have been reflective on your time away.  

To Summarise…

There are plenty of ways you can spend your gap year that can provide you with some amazing memories and experiences! More people take gap years than you think - you won’t be the odd one out when you start university – so please don’t worry about this. Take as much time as you need and make the most of your year off! There is so much opportunity to make some incredible memories so think about how you want to plan your year and make sure to follow through with it! Have fun!

Author: Chandan Sekhon

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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