Many students think that taking a year off anytime during medical school will hurt your chances for residency. The truth is that it largely depends on what you did during that time. If you are seeking to enter very competitive specialties such as dermatology or radiology, taking a year off will hurt you more than if you’re shooting for a spot in internal medicine. If you do decide to take a year off, what should you do?
Many students take a year off for a break before residency and decide to pad their CV with some research experience. In fact, many students think it is necessary to have research on their CV for specialties such as radiology or opthalmology (and usually complete this research during medical school). The bottom line is that research is good for your CV, particularly if it is clinically-oriented, no matter what you are deciding to pursue. This does not mean you absolutely need research experience under your belt in order to score a residency spot of your choosing.
Volunteer Health Work
Something like going overseas and volunteering in some third-world country providing health care to people would be ideal. As most of you already know, this kind of stuff isn’t my cup of tea. But, if you do decide to take a year off, this is another great option so that you don’t lose out on your dream residency.
Other options include the typical stuff that you would expect: Working for a non-profit agency, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, working in a soup kitchen, starting a new charity, etc. You may want to check this site out for some free stuff while you’re looking for charity options.
What You Would (Actually) Like To Do
Now, most of you reading this would probably like to do something more relaxing or fun. I’ll be the first person to tell you that I don’t blame you at all. But, taking a year off and spending it skiing in Colorado does not look good to program directors. It’s a sad, sad fact.
God forbid you do anything for pure enjoyment if you expect to re-enter medicine a year later. Anything other than clinically-oriented grunt work or something to “better the community” during your year off immediately erases any type of medical knowledge that you have gained over the last four years and makes you totally inadequate for the practice of medicine. That’s what the program directors would have you believe.
In order to stay competitive, you have to play their game. Unfortunately if you want a year off, you’ll need to be in a lab somewhere or volunteering at some free clinic in Kenya. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as becoming ill or pregnant.
If you do decide to take some time off, expect to answer the question about what you did during your time off during your interviews. Remember, they don’t know exactly what you did during your year off – and how many people really call and check on references?
As I said earlier, taking a year off doesn’t completely put you out of the running for the residency spot that you want. You’ll just need to finesse the things that you do during your year off and what you tell the program directors during your interviews.