June 27, 2020

What to do during a gap year – COVID-19 Edition

Work, Activities, and Extracurriculars
Madison Masters

What to do during a gap year – COVID edition

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended plans and procedures for countless people around the globe. Even large institutions have found themselves at a loss for how to adjust their protocols in order to keep everyone safe and healthy. Many pre-med students are facing the prospect of a gap year seemingly without the standard opportunities due to the coronavirus, and you may be one of them. However, the world will keep spinning, and there are still plenty of ways to prepare for medical school!

Why take a gap year?

Firstly, let’s clear up a common misconception: It is not necessarily more beneficial to apply to medical school straight out of undergrad. The median medical school matriculant is 24 years old, and 75% of matriculants are 22 years old or older!

Taking a gap year or two is an excellent way to gain “real world experience” – whether that’s research experience, volunteer experience, or work experience, medical schools are looking for applicants who show that they are prepared for the rigors and demands of medicine as a career.

On a personal level, I found that my two gap years helped me to understand the reality of work and really settle into my professional identity. There are also other reasons to take a gap year, like improving your MCAT or GPA that may fit your situation well.

So with all of these benefits in mind, let’s think about some traditional gap year activities adapted for the Coronavirus.

Can I still volunteer?

Absolutely, though it may look different from previous years! Remember, medical schools are looking to see commitment to clinical and non-clinical volunteering opportunities.

Some hospitals are opening up volunteer opportunities again, with special protocols and opportunities that minimize risk for the patients and volunteers. Look into your local hospital’s volunteer center; many pre-medical students believe that you need an academic connection to get a volunteer position, but local hospitals are always looking for volunteers.

FoodShares and soup kitchens are still running, albeit with new social distancing measures. They often need help with tasks beyond serving food, like gathering donations and spreading information about their programs. There are also plenty of impactful remote volunteer opportunities, like working for the Crisis Text Line, becoming an online mentor for underserved high school students, and many others.

Are there still clinical gap year jobs and research?

Of course, though you’ll have to consider the risks you may be taking on.

There are plenty of clinical studies around COVID patients, some of which are primarily remote as your PI may ask you to assist with data analysis. These research positions may be hard to find, but having academic contacts will help. These projects often take a year or two, and are a great way to spend your gap year.

EMTs and medical scribes are still jobs that are always in demand. While there is always the risk of infection, these risks are the reality of many clinical jobs. Many scribing jobs were put on hold at the start of the pandemic, but as states are beginning to reopen after adjusting their safety protocols, many of these clinical jobs are reappearing as well.

What else can I do during a gap year?

Many applicants take on teaching positions with Teach For America, teach at other schools, join the Peace Corps, or even work for another business. Students will still need to go to school, even if the format changes a bit due to COVID precautions!

Other students pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate or master’s degree to show their academic preparedness for school. The most important thing is to pursue something that continues to challenge you and prepare you for the rigors of medical school.

The AAMC’s data show that the number of “non-traditional” applicants in each cycle continues to rise. It’s clear that their slightly-longer route to medical school does not hinder their chances, especially if they have a plan.

So in conclusion, a gap year or two during COVID can still be a great idea!

Many applicants benefit from taking time between undergraduate studies and medical school. Some of the benefits are personal, such as forming a professional identity and solidifying your reasons for wanting to practice medicine. Some of these benefits are practical, like raising your GPA or MCAT scores, gaining more volunteer or research experience, and forming a well-rounded application.

Even with many of the restrictions imposed by coronavirus precautions, there are still plenty of ways to get involved in your community, in research, and find rewarding employment. So go out there and get involved!

If you want to ensure that your application will stand out and earn you a position in a medical school, the team at AcceptMed is always here to help! Our team is comprised of Harvard Medical School graduates who know the ins and outs of the medical school application process, all dedicated to your success. Contact us today!

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