Advice for Gap Year Opportunities?

Hi, I’m a premed student graduating this following year (2015). I’ve taken all the prerequisites suggested by my school, have a decent GPA, and am planning to take the MCATs soon. However, I noticed that my experience in the medical field (especially hospital practice) is quite lacking due to where my school is and where I live. The demand for such opportunities is very high and the opportunities’ locations are very inconvenient themselves in both those places for me while I was an undergraduate student. To make myself more ready for what lies ahead and to fill in experiential holes, I decided to take a gap year and apply as a nontraditional.

However, I’m looking at a pretty big challenge right now - what should I look for to spend a year in, and where should I look for such a thing? As of now, I’d prefer a paid internship at a hospital or something of the sort at a city or close to other colleges (so I can pay off my living expenses while being able to socialize with others), but unpaid ones would be great as well. Is this way of thinking right and where can I look for such a thing - hospitals that aren’t inundated with volunteers and are located in places where I can potentially find friends of around my age, or am I hoping for too much? What else can I and should I look for in terms of this sort of experience? Thanks!

Research is huge. Try for research associate (lab tech) positions. If you can land a research position that is affiliated with clinical medicine that would be an excellent opportunity.

At the end of the day you should try to work/volunteer in an area you think you might interested and it doesn’t have to be related to medicine. Victims of domestic abuse, homeless, under-represented, the elderly, mental disease…the list goes on. Find something you can or are passionate about and throw yourself into it. If not during your med school interviews it becomes clear that all you did was go into something to “punch a ticket.”

The thing is that I have been involved in 1 year of biomed research and 2 years of biopsych research as an undergrad (despite not directly related to health, I am working on an honors thesis) - and I feel like my exposure to the hospital setting is just extremely lacking compared to research experience and other forms of service (which I have been engaged in over the years, a bit of time locally every week - although in terms of full service trips so far in addition to that, I have only been on one due to scheduling limitations - one which I had to prepare for throughout the whole year every week also). I thought that hospital experience would make me a more balanced applicant - but should I still just go for a clinical research position still instead to add on to research experience I already have?

Don’t waste your time on more research since you already have it so I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think you need the exposure you think. Med school will expose you to medicine and I don’t hear or meet too many adcoms who advocate exposure. Exposure is mostly reserved for PA schools where they have a prereq for certain number of hours. You have the grades, and extras, and will have the MCAT. I would opt for perhaps EMT and do that during the next year. It’ll get the blood pumping and give the exposure you want. Plus I also believe it is good experience medically and professionally because you get to meet nurses and physicians who you can speak to plus get to work on your stress response.

Check with your school or local community college for the EMT courses. Might even check with your local firehouse. I know one in the area which allows students to live there free as long as they pick up an extra shift per week…and don’t mind living in the firehouse.

My advice would be to get a job, and to save as much money as possible. Med School is crazy expensive (not to mention applications, interviews, deposits, moving expenses if you go out of state, etc.) and being able to offset as much of that as you can in advance will really pay off in the long.

Personally I was just recently accepted (so I’ll be starting next Fall) and my wife and I are both working full time and doing everything we can to save money and pay off existing debt so we can take out that much less in loans.

From my experience, getting a paid hospital position that offers much in the way of clinical experience and/or patient exposure is pretty rare, unless you have marketable skills (CNA, EMT, and so on). Without a professional degree, you’re simply limited in what you can do. And also how much you can get paid.

I agree with Prodigal – pay off existing debt, save some if you can. As an accepted medical student starting fall of 2015 myself, I’m doing the same thing. Also trying to enjoy myself a little bit.

Once you’ve been accepted into medical school, that’s the big hurdle for now. You will get plenty of hospital experience during your clinical years.

I guess my big question, based on your post, is whether you have enough clinical experience for the medical school application itself – because admissions committee members really look for this. Have you done volunteer work and/or shadowing in a clinical setting? This is really necessary to be a competitive candidate.

I would agree with Croooz that you have enough research experience, but I would disagree that you should focus on paring down debt alone. AdComms do want applicants to have some non-research exposure to health care to signal that you know what you are getting into working with patients. But I suggest you NOT be an EMT. As a former EMT, I found the work to be hard, low-paying, often frustrating. And so many applicants to medical school have EMT experience that it is considered not significant. Instead, I would suggest looking at a job that puts you in with physicians but also makes you stand out as an applicant. For example, ER Tech, Medical Scribe, OR Tech, etc. Some of these jobs require training that can be found through adult schools and ROP programs.

Volunteering, of course, is much easier, but often more limiting. Much of the work is “grunt” work that other health care people find mundane or boring. Also, again, too many applicants to medical school do ER or hospice volunteering, and so AdComms see a lot of these applicants. I suggest you find a volunteer position that makes you stand out and makes AdComms remember you. Through careful choosing of volunteer positions, you may be able to find one that allows you do much more than a typical volunteer elsewhere and would look fine on an application. This is especially true of out-of-country volunteer placements.

Lastly, the hardest option: make your own placement by finding a “medical need” or problem and solving that problem through your volunteer work. Is there a pressing medical issue in your community that could be mitigated with your help? You may not be able to legally or medically solve the problem by yourself, but you may be able to get doctors or other health professionals involved do so.

To me, it sounds like what you need is a job/hobby that interests you and some quality shadow experience versus non-patient centric hospital volunteering. In my limited experience, the adcom wants to make sure you have an understanding of what you’re getting into. Pushing patients around or just being in a hospital setting won’t necessarily get you that. I know some schools actually require shadowing (hospital volunteer doesn’t count). For example, UW requires 40hrs at a minimum. There’s a debate as to whether much more than that is necessary or its adequate to get the gist. Remember, you don’t have to be a hospitalist to become a doctor…

As for me, I had literally zero volunteer hours at all (they may have given me points for mil service) and still got 6 interviews and 2 acceptances. Not discounting volunteering as it’s important to show selflessness. But do it in a field that interests you and don’t do it just because it’s another box to check.

I too am trying to save. Hard to support a family on single-person cost of living.

KennyMac, I just started my premed science courses and am coming up on my ETS date.

What was your MOS/Branch while in the military? How did you frame your military service to med schools when writing your personal statement and during interviews?

I served as an infantry platoon leader followed by a lot of staff time - a short 3-year stint - so I’d be curious to know how the med school boards may perceive this experience.

I’d love to hear about your experience, what made you decide to become a physician while in the service, and just any general thoughts or pointers on the way ahead.


Zach. I started a private thread to continue our talk.

To Entree,

Welcome to the forum and congrats on almost being done with your undergraduate career. You need to beef up your clinical experience and get into a hospital to really understand what it’s like; remember that much of your medical training will be done in a hospital. Admission committees will expect you to have hospital volunteering experience to be reassured that you know what you’re getting into. This should definitely be a component of your application so if there is any way you can get this BEFORE you submit your application it’s advisable to do so. Admission committees won’t want to hear that it was inconvenient or that there were too many other people vying to do it; they just want to see it.

In regard to jobs, you may want to try to get a position as a clinical research assistant at a teaching hospital. Those are very valuable opportunities to learn about clinical studies and patient care, depending on the actual position. Hopefully the premed advisor at your undergrad institution can steer you in the right direction in regard to job opportunities and how to identify leads, etc. It’s too detailed a process for me to go into on the forum. You should also look into getting help from the Career Center at your college–this is their area of expertise. Good luck!