Why taking a gap year was important to me

In some ways taking a gap year wasn’t my choice. Rather, a choice pre-determined for me. My university put us in our major courses our freshman year. According to them, in order for a student to apply to medical straight out of university, they need to:

  • have taken biochemistry 1 before the spring of their junior year

This is because, according to my university, students will have enough knowledge to take the notorious MCAT.

And in order to do that, students need to

  • start their freshman year taking general chemistry
  • so they could take organic chemistry their sophomore year
  • followed by biochemistry in the fall of their junior year

Unfortunately, I was unaware of this until the spring of my sophomore year when I was just finishing up the second half of general chemistry and it was too late for me to play catch-up. While it would’ve been possible, although tricky, to take both organic chemistry 2 and biochemistry 1 at the same time during that spring semester during my junior year, I decided that it ultimately wouldn’t be worth my my GPA.

Or my sanity.

In all honesty, I was crushed. I felt like I would be wasting my time by taking a gap year and I felt that I would be "behind" everyone else that went to medical school straight out of university. These feelings wracked my brain for weeks.

During that same spring semester of my sophomore year, I had chosen to take on a hefty course load. I couldn’t help but think to myself that that semester was just a preview of what the next two years would be like. When the semester was finally over and I had survived all the long nights, exams, and labs, the light at the end of the tunnel was that gap year waiting for me once I was done with my Bachelor’s degree.

Fast-forward to the present day.

It’s been over two years since I was that worried sophomore student that was so concerned that she’d be “behind” everyone else and would be “wasting” her time during her, now two, gap years. Looking back, I wouldn't have been ready to apply to medical school my junior year even if I had taken the MCAT that spring. I had:

  • zero clinical hours
  • zero physician shadowing hours and
  • zero clue about the application process

Additionally, by the time I had finished my final semester at university, I was completely burnt out. I had taken classes during every term, including summers, just so I could graduate in four years. I also worked various part time jobs starting in the summer before my sophomore year up through when I graduated. I had completely exhausted myself (which I do not recommend) and knew that I needed a well-deserved break.

So far in my gap year, I’ve been able to:

  • study for the MCAT
  • gain even more clinical hours by working as a caregiver
  • travel to visit friends and family and
  • start mentally preparing myself for the 7+ years that will be medical school and residency

What I’ve learned is that medical school will always be there and just because I’m not starting medical school straight out of university doesn’t mean I’m behind. It just means I want more time to focus on bettering myself so that I can be more prepared for all that’s to come in life.

- @arielthemermed

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