Hey y'all, I've previously written about what makes a great gap year before starting medical school, so now I wanted to talk a little about my personal experience with Teach for America.
Like a lot of pre-meds, I didn't want to go to medical school straight out of college. So, I applied to Teach for America because I had heard wonderful things about the program! Before deciding whether it might be right for you, let's cover the basics...
Teach for America is a non profit organization that hires recent college grads from across the country to spend two years teaching in an under-resourced public school. The experience lasts two years, but many folks (including myself) decide to stay on for longer. Corps members are placed in cities/towns across the country. You have some input in the application process, however, it is ultimately up to the admissions committee. Speaking of which, it is a VERY competitive multi-round admission process.
For two years, you will be working in a low-income school district as a teacher. When you apply, you may input your preferences for subject and age level (i.e. 'high school math' or 'middle school english'), but as above, it is ultimately decided by the admissions committee. During these two years, you will be pushed mentally and physically in how to overcome the massive achievement gap in the United States. Day to day, you will be making lesson plans, learning behavior management, tracking student outcomes among other tasks. The job is CHALLENGING -- the hours are long and the challenges often feel insurmountable. For example, my school didn't always provide adequate supplies for my students (so I supplied my own). Many of my students had complex psychosocial stressors -- incarcerated parents, intermittent homelessness, deep-sided food insecurity, to name a few. Despite these challenges, I will also say that my experience in TFA was probably one of the most rewarding of my life. It allowed me to become a more compassionate and resourceful person. It gave me real life practice in how to problem solve in a difficult environment, a skill I use daily as an intern on the hospital wards.
I would never recommend TFA for a person solely looking to buff up their application for medical school. Teach for America can be a life-changing and incredible experience, but I would only encourage those interested in education and social justice to apply. If, however, you do think TFA is a good fit for you, it should be said that it is highly regarded by medical school admissions committees. Beyond its reputation for selecting excellent candidates, your experiences in TFA will allow you to speak deeply about education and socioeconomic disparities, both in your personal statement and in person interviews. It will inform your future patient interactions for the better.