The best year of my life so far, without a doubt, would be my gap year. It was a year that changed me enormously, for the better, and I’ll never forget that time in my life.
Gap years are generally viewed in a very negative light. The portrayal of gap years in TV is usually of a student spending a year, and lots of their parents money, backpacking around Europe and getting drunk. If you look up gap year on urban dictionary (I’m so hip) then the first term related to gap year is couch potato. That’s not a stellar endorsement for gap years and certainly doesn’t help the case of students trying to convince their parents that taking a gap year is a good thing.
Regardless of that, the gap year is very popular amongst students here in the UK. A lot of people take gap years but it’s not very common to find medical students who take gap years. When I was applying for medicine there seemed to be a preconceived notion amongst students applying for medicine that taking a gap year is detrimental. A lot of people, me included, thought that taking a gap year made it less likely that you would get into medical school. I don’t know if that was true or even if it is true now, I highly doubt it though.
Taking a gap year doesn’t take anything away from your application to medical school, or any other course. If anything it adds more value. Everyone who I’ve spoken to that’s taken a gap year has not regretted it and they all agree that it was the best decision they’ve ever made. If your goal is to get into medicine then there are lots of different routes into medicine.
The traditional route into medicine is to go straight from school after doing A-levels. However in my year, at Sheffield medical school, I would say that roughly half of the students fit into this category. The rest of my year is a mixture of gap year, post-graduate and international students. I think it’s safe to say that Sheffield medical school loves gap year students. There’s roughly around 40 students who have taken a gap year in my class of 240 and one guy even took two gap years (crazy, I know). If you don’t get into medical school straight after A-levels then it’s not the end of the world. I know loads of people who got into medicine after taking a gap year or doing a degree and many university’s actually prefer students who’ve done this. The key is to have determination and be proactive.
Once I decided to take a gap year I thought that if I’m going to do this then I need to do lots of relevant work experience and voluntary work, to show that I haven’t wasted a year. Whilst it is true that if you spend your gap year lounging around at home it will reflect badly on you, but that doesn’t mean you need do a whole ton of stuff and be busy everyday 9 to 5. If you show that you’ve maintained an interest in medicine, or whatever you want to do, through your gap year then you definitely won’t have wasted a year. That might mean doing some voluntary work once a week.
What are the benefits of taking a gap year? The amount of personal growth I saw in myself over a year was immense. I’d become a completely different person over the course of one year. I became more independent; realized how to manage my time efficiently; really understood what it meant to be part of a working team; I learnt a new language; I started earning some money and managed my own finances. These are just a few of the things that I picked up along my gap year.
By the time you achieve your A-levels at 18 you will have been in education for 13/14 years, the last five of those years were spent intensely studying towards important exams. After all that time in education and all those exams, who wouldn’t benefit from a break. I certainly needed that break from education and it definitely helped to revitalize my love for learning. When I finally came to university I was hungry for knowledge and to be taught something new.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was unsuccessful in getting into medical school the first time around. The gruelling application process combined with the rejections really caused me to fall out with medicine. I seriously considered not reapplying for medical school. Taking a gap year allowed me to rediscover the reasons why I originally wanted to be a doctor and reignited my passion for medicine.
Are there any downsides to a gap year? If you plan your gap year properly and be proactive the only downside is that many of your friends will be one year ahead of you in university. A small price to pay for what could potentially be the best year of your life.
What did I do on my gap year? Well, I’m the kind of person that constantly needs something to do so I was very proactive and did loads of different things, not just medicine related. I volunteered once a week at my local hospital as well as in a hospice. I was working two part-time jobs, one of those in McDonald’s which was an interesting experience and certainly expanded my horizons in ways that I hadn’t imagined. I did some more work experience as well. You can’t call it a gap year if you haven’t gone travelling somewhere so inevitably I went to the US where I spent a couple of weeks in New York, the city that never sleeps (my favourite place in world!). I will talk about all of these things more in future blogs.
Take home messages of the blog: There’s more than one road to achieving your goals. Sometimes the road less travelled is more difficult to navigate, but you’ll enjoy the journey a lot more. Also it’s ok to take a break (the kit kat is optional) from education or work. Breaks give you the opportunity to explore, whether that be a new country or a new hobby, and helps to re-energize you for when you get back into it.