Medical Students Should Take a Gap Year

The idea of a gap year is popular in many parts of the world, but less common in the US. Here's why the concept is a good idea for medical students.

Taking a year off from school, a so-called “gap year,” is common in many parts of the world but not in the US. The recent announcement that President Obama's daughter will be taking a gap year before attending Harvard has highlighted the idea, and, as you would expect, some support it and others think it is a bad idea.

I think it is a great idea if you have the means and opportunity to do it and you structure it correctly. In fact, we should strongly encourage it at various stages of medical career development. Here's why:

1. Whether it is between college and medical school, between medical school and residency, or at some point during your practicing career, it would give gappers time to decompress and “get their heads screwed on.”

2. It would give gappers time to do something other than medicine and would give them another perspective. They can then use that experience to improve medicine or just improve themselves.

3. It would give gappers time to pursue innovative or entrepreneurial activities.

4. It would give gappers more choice and help them derive more meaning from what they are doing

5. It will give gappers the opportunity, particularly if they travel, to develop cultural competencies and all that comes with it.

6. Gap years should not be reserved for just undergraduate and medical students. They could be even more important for practitioners. Maybe it should be part of your10/20/30 Plan, or what to do after you tell someone to take that white coat and shove it.

7. Taking a break does not have to be for an entire year. How about taking all that unlimited vacation time your employer just promised you?

8. Also, a gap year could be your senior year abroad when you didn't do it as an undergrad. I did and loved it.

9. When you take a year off, you will discover whether you have been successful in making yourself disappear as an entrepreneur and validate how truly non-essential you are for your business.

10. Planning to take a gap year will force you to do a better job at financial planning, getting rid of stuff you don't need, and debt management.

More than half of medical schools already have an arrangement whereby students can take a one-year leave of absence. But they call it something other than a “gap year.” They call it getting an MBA.

Jimmy Buffett wants you to take a holiday. So do I. In fact, I took my gap year in my 60s.