Taking a year or two off before applying to medical school can be a great way to add a different dimension to your application by providing you with valuable life-experiences, both medical and non-medical.
Lots of non-traditional students pursue clinical research in their year between undergrad and med school. The topic of the research does not necessarily need to correlate to your future interests (although if you can build a narrative around why you chose your research area, it helps!). Rather, med schools want to see that you have an interest in pursuing academic medicine.
Mission driven organizations such as Teach for America and Peace Corps can not only be extremely rewarding, but are also looked upon favorably by medical school admissions committees. Teach for America (TFA) is a 2 year commitment that places corps members as teachers in high-need school districts. Medical schools love TFAers for multiple reasons, but first and foremost, it’s because all physicians are teachers (whether of med students, residents, or their patients). Completing TFA / Peace Corps also gives you many rich real life experiences to discuss on your medical school interview trail.
Becoming an emergency medical technician provides first-hand clinical experience that medical schools highly value. Very few gap year experiences will teach skills that are directly useful for your medical training. In addition, your experiences as an EMT will provide meaningful and detailed fodder for your interviews.
Becoming a medical scribe, similar to being an EMT, provides applicants hands-on clinical experience prior to embarking on medical school. This particular job is useful because it can not only give you a sense of whether you are a good fit for medicine, but also provides real-life patient encounters that can inform your interview discussions. In addition, many scribes form close relationships with the providers they work for, which can lead to outstanding letters of recommendation!
Becoming a consultant (particularly for a medical field) is a lucrative way to spend your gap year. These jobs are, however, quite difficult to obtain because they are often very competitive. Although there is no hands-on clinical experience, a job in medical consulting can provide applicants unique perspective on how medicine can be improved from a systems level. This is a useful outlook to possess, given that medical students are often not taught the minutia of health care policy.
Some of the strongest med school applicants take meandering paths to medicine. Whether you are a musician, author, engineer, or working for a pharmaceutical company, your gap year job can be a real asset to your application. The key to achieving this is making the job fit into your narrative about why you want to be a physician. Make sure to highlight what skills you learned from your former industry that can be translated to the field of medicine!