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Taking a year off from med school ?

Discussion in 'Medical Students Cafe' started by Hala, Jan 19, 2014.

  1. Hala

    Hala Golden Member Verified Doctor

    Oct 17, 2013
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    A question I found myself asking early on in medical school was whether or not to take a year off in between the white coat ceremony and graduation. My personal goals for such a year would be to pursue research, because I had always been fascinated with the potential of scientific discovery; I just never had time to really own a project. I spent my undergraduate free time and summers in various labs and loved it, but the ultimate lesson from those experiences was that science takes time. If I wanted to call a project my own, I would need at least a year. I am also part of an accelerated BS/MD program so I do have extra time to spare. Those two reasons were the driving factors for my decision to take a year off of medical school. However, for others who might be considering a year off in general, I bring you some of the insights I’ve gained from talking to fellow students, mentors, faculty and personal experience about what to consider when taking a year off.

    Reasons people may or may not consider a year off of medical school:

    IN FAVOR: A year off allows you to…

    1. Set foundations for potential pursuits during residency.

    • You can either pursue a degree or work on a project of your interest to
    1) boost your residency application

    or 2) set foundations to build from after you graduate.

    Setting foundations takes time that isn’t quite a luxury in residency, but building on already laid groundwork is a lot easier. If you are interested in a competitive residency (specialty-wise or academic medicine), it could greatly help your application to get publications under your belt. If you are interested in public health, private practice, medical litigation or something else medically related that could benefit from an additional degree, getting one (or even work/volunteer experience) before graduation doesn’t hurt.

    2. Pursue something you’ve always wanted to pursue, while time is still relatively flexible.

    This can be anywhere from learning a different language, pursuing a different subject (i.e. bioethics, alternative medicine, etc.), volunteering abroad, or even having a kid!

    3. Refresh your mind from the stresses of medical school – emotionally, mentally and physically.

    Nothing is quite like medical school training and it is not uncommon to feel burnt out, especially at the end of 3rd year. The need for this is unique to every person, but a year off could provide a much needed break to refresh you for the rest of your career

    AGAINST: Cons that come with an extra year include:

    1. You won’t get to graduate with the medical school class you started with.

    The bonds formed through shared lessons, memories, exams and post-exams during medical school are indeed special. Of course, true friends will be with you no matter what, but it could be disappointing not to graduate with your starting class.

    2 Extra year of interest for those with student loans, or worse, the need to start paying back loans.

    Depending on what you decide to do on a year off, some programs, especially academic ones, will qualify you to defer your loans if necessary. However, a non-academic pursuit might force you to start paying back loans. You should check with your financial aid office for more information.

    3. You are adding an extra year to the completion of medical school training.

    Some people like to keep up with the momentum of medical training and get on with their career. One more year before graduation could be looked at as one less year as an attending!

    OF NOTE, you might not even need to take a year off, especially if your aims were to improve your residency application, if the following apply:

    1. You are not interested in academic medicine or research, but rather, purely clinical medicine.

    2. You are interested in research but plan to do a residency that is on the ’less time intensive’ side (though this is subjective and program dependent–find out the time commitments by asking the residents!) You will need to explain the reason for a year out of medical school during residency interviews, so be prepared!

    In these two situations, a year off in medical school doing an additional degree or research can certainly help, but it is not necessary. For the most part, your clinical skills are more important to residencies and they regard this first, before they look at your additional experience. After all, most of your time during residency will be used for clinical work primarily. Don’t forget that it is fully possible (and sometimes required, depending on the program) to do research in residency, too!

    In terms of the BEST years to take off, most people would recommend doing it after 3rd year, before your 4th year. This allows you to still do rotations with the class you started with, which can offer benefits like sharing resources and tips for rotations with people you know better. 3rd year also will give you the exposure to clinical medicine that can help form clinical questions of your own that you might want to pursue. Finishing most of your core clerkships is highly recommended if you plan to do a clinical research project. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to take off between 2nd and 3rd year also. The benefit of this is that there is more time in between your year off and graduation, which may allow you to have more publications out in time for residency.

    These are just a few of the things to consider when you are contemplating a year off in medical school. There are many options, but ultimately, the choice is in your hands.

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