Gap Year or No Gap Year, That is the Question

I have always known, probably since I was in elementary school that I wanted to be a doctor. What I didn’t know, probably until I got to college, was that college would also be exhausting. I knew it would be hard, but as someone who has always been heavily involved, I felt like my time management would allow me to balance it all. While I was able to manage all of my activities, college still left me pretty drained. Lucky me though, I still have 4 (probably more like 10 if you count residency and possibly a fellowship) more even more exhausting years to go of medical school.

So –gap year or no gap year, that is the question.  I was definitely lucky in the sense that I graduated early and I am now enjoying almost 7.5 months off before starting life as a medical student. For me, that is enough time to work, enjoy having free time, travel and just relax a little before I start to get back into the swing of school again. For others, time off maybe isn’t the right choice. Maybe you just want to keep going and get done as fast as possible, maybe you feel like you don’t need a break. Whatever your though process is, here are some of the reasons I think taking a gap year (or some amount of time off) can be a huge positive.

  1. MONEY – Money doesn’t grow on trees, and when you are talking grad school, parents are usually out of the picture at that point as far as financial help. When you finally receive your financial award letter, loans are the one thing you don’t want to see a lot of, but they are what you will get the most of. Scholarships aren’t as available in grad school, so you definitely need to try and decrease the amount you take in loans so you aren’t paying them back forever. In that sense, taking a gap year is definitely a way to increase your bank account so you can decrease your loans as much as possible.
  2. BURN OUT – Especially in health professions, burn out is a huge problem. In any field though, you can see burn out. College is really tiring for many people and grad school is definitely going to be just as tiring, and probably even more so. It is important to take a little time for your self before you start grad school, especially if you know that school will be more like a job for the next few years. Taking time to relax and refresh is a great way to avoid burn out and to allow yourself to mentally and physically prepare to tackle graduate school to the best of your ability.
  3. TRAVEL – As someone who loves adventure, I am a huge advocate for taking time to travel after college. I know that medical school will be tough and I really won’t have a lot of time or money to travel, so I am taking time to do it now. There are so many people who say they will travel later, and sometimes that is the only option financially, but a lot of times life gets in the way and traveling gets pushed to the back burner. I don’t think I will ever look back and say, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t gone to Peru, Ecuador, or Europe, how lame was that!” So, if you have the time, the money, and a solid backpack, why not take some time to travel somewhere you have always wanted to go? You will learn so much about the world and yourself, and that can only benefit you in your future endeavors.
  4. SELF DISCOVERY – You may or may not know what you want to do, and that is totally okay! One of the things I have realized as a now graduated student is that I can’t imagine going to work every day for the rest of my life from 9-5. That just isn’t what I want and I don’t want to start now. There is so much more I want to do and to learn, and frankly I am just not ready to grow up yet, in that sense. Taking time off to think and do things that can help you be sure of what you want for yourself is really important. Even though I know what I want to do, traveling and teaching abroad and during my off time, I feel like I truly know now that medicine is what I am meant to do, and what will make me happy. Time off has really helped me mature and grow as a person and I feel like I can go into school now ready to learn and to become a professional.

While there are so many reasons why taking time off is a good idea, there are also definitely plenty of reasons why going straight through is beneficial too. Whatever you want to go into, you have to know yourself and do what is right for you. Just because your friend is going now, doesn’t mean you have to go down that same path, and vice versa. We have so much time to work and to be adults, it is a shame to try and rush that if you don’t have to or don’t want to.