When I was a freshman, I remember hearing the term gap year and being against it. In my mind, I believed it was best to get all of my schooling completed back to back. Part of my logic was that I would be mentally prepared as there would be no gap in time of not studying or preparing for test. But part of my thought stemmed from fear as I felt I might not return to school if I took a break.
Fast forward to the pandemic and my senior year, I was feeling very overwhelmed. I was confused on if I even wanted to continue pursuing a career in health and I didn't have much time to study or prepare for the MCATs or medical school applications. I didn't feel that I was qualified enough to apply during the 2021-2022 rounds as I lacked any real experience with patients or hospital settings and I hadn't even shadowed a physician yet. And on top of everything, I realized that I would not be graduating on time, but rather in the summer as I was missing a few credits. I remember calling my mom and crying because I felt like a failure and I was so disappointed that I couldn't apply to the cycle I wanted and that's when my mom suggested the "dreaded" gap year. She told me that there was no rush on education because if I didn't feel prepared or that I would be putting my best self out there, then what was the purpose? She also told me that maybe with everything that was going on, I needed a break to just see what it is that I actually wanted to do with my life.
I was forced into taking a gap year, which I can now say was the best decision of my life. When I realized that I would need this gap year, I decided that I would use my time to gain real experience with patients to confirm if I wanted to work in healthcare or not. Three months before graduating, I researched jobs that would allow me to work with patients with an undergraduate degree. To my surprise, there were quite a few including medical scribes, EMT, certain technicians, and clinical research associate roles. Some roles required additional training and/or certificates, but I applied to as many jobs as I could. I was lucky enough to land an interview at Cedars Sinai, twice, with different departments. I was selected to work in the Women's Heart Center as my first job after graduation, where I currently work on studies that allow me to interact with patients daily. It was during my patient interactions that I knew I was meant to pursue a career in healthcare. After a month of working there, I made the decision to start studying for the MCATs and researching schools that I was interested in applying to. However, as I continued working, I realized that I truly enjoyed being hands on with the patients and spending time with them. I also realized that physicians need more people on their teams to assist with patient visits and to support them in other ways. Upon this realization, I decided to switch my pursuit to becoming a physician assistant. With this as my new focus, I was able to research programs that I was interested in and prepare for the 2023-2024 cycle accordingly. Additionally, I was able to share my goals with the physician I work with and she was able to connect me with a physician assistant she worked with in the past so that he could provide me with advice and tips.
Overall, I am thankful for the gap year that I was able to take. Not only did it allow me some time to decompress after my undergraduate career, but it also allowed me to gain experience and make connections that I otherwise would not have.
If you are contemplating taking a gap year or have decided to take a gap year, make the most of it. Allow yourself to use the time as a learning experience outside of a classroom. Whether you choose to take the gap year as time to study or prepare for your exams/applications, use it as time to gain work experience, or simply use the time to explore life, there's education in it all. Don't allow anyone else to make you feel bad about your decisions as there is no rush to complete school. It's best to take your time and put your best self forward, no matter what you pursue!