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May 1, 2021

The Pros & Cons of taking a Gap Year in Medical School


Medical school typically lasts four years. However, increasingly, more and more students are electing to take a Gap Year due to professional or personal reasons. Obviously, the decision is not one to take lightly. Opportunity costs are part of the calculus. Therefore, thoughtful balancing of the pros and cons take precedence in this important decision. In this blog, we’ll review the common considerations for taking a Gap Year in medical school.


  • Top Reasons to Take a Gap Year
  • The Pros and Cons
  • Discuss the Gold Standard for Gap Year
  • When is the Best time
  • Should you take a Gap Year?


  • Top Reasons to Take a Gap Year
    • One reason is due to academic underperformance. The student fails to pass a course, a clerkship and/or Shelf exam requiring repeating the class or rotation.
    • On occasion, the student near completion of the 3rd year, finds it difficult to decide on a specialty to apply to. This was actually my situation. Gung ho and committed to Ob-Gyn, at the end of my 3rd year, I de-committed from OB and had no strong lean in any other direction. After considerable anxiety and soul searching, I took a gap year in anesthesia research at UC Irvine and UCSF, ultimately matching in Anesthesiology at Keck USC.
    • Uncommon, yet seeming more popular, is earning a second degree in medical school, such as an MBA, MPH or PhD. Students that pursue medical administration, government policy or academia may require or desire additional advanced degrees.
    • Occasionally, unexpected personal matters, such as family emergencies, pregnancies, personal injuries or illnesses interrupt medical school.
    • Medical education and training is undoubtedly stressful, and can lead to mental health issues that require treatment and recovery.
    • Some specialties or residency programs are extremely competitive, such as neurosurgery, dermatology and radiology. Similarly, elite programs attract a plethora of stellar candidates. Many programs place a premium on research, publications, and first-hand knowledge of students through away electives. These are certainly strong considerations for taking a gap year.


  • The Pros and the Cons
    • An advantage for doing a gap year is to optimally align your pre-residency achievements and interests with your post-residency goals.
    •  Whether that means enhancing your competitiveness in order to establish your reputation, secure strong letters of recommendations or academic publications, Gap years can make you a stronger candidate for residency. 
    • A disadvantage to taking a gap year are the opportunity costs, such as additional student loans,, interest payments and delayed attending income. These are not trivial things.
    • The MBA and other advanced degrees do not compensate for a low Step score. Pursue them if they align with your future goals, not because you think they’ll make you erroneously think they will make you a stronger candidate for residency.
    • Being indecisive about choosing a specialty will not necessarily be solved with a Gap Year. You could end up a year later non-the-wiser and a year older, and in the same predicament.
  • The Gold Standard for the Gap Year
    • Stanford University’s Discovery Curriculum perhaps sets the Gold Standard in Gap Year Options. The majority of Stanford medical students take more than 4 years to graduate, by design.
      • The Pre-clerkship period, typically 2 years, is commonly lengthened to 3 years at Stanford, providing flexibility in order to pursue scholarly interests or dual professional credentials.
      • Longitudinal Learning Types:
        • MD + Scholarly concentration (4-5y)
        • MD + In depth Research (5y)
        • MD + Master’s Degree; MBA, MPH, etc. (5y)
        • MD + Bergs Scholar – Master in BioMed Investigation (6y)
        • MD + PhD (7-8y)


  • Best time to take a Gap Year
    • Between 3rd and 4th year is most popular, as many do not want to disrupt the flow of basic science knowledge and its application in the clinical years.
    • However, as shown above at Stanford, incorporating the gap year within the pre-clerkship years is certainly viable, depending on your long-range goals. Stanford has proven that the rigid, traditional 4-year curriculum was certainly worthy of an update to meet the needs of the current medical students and institutions in this 3rd millennium.


  • Should you take a Gap Year?


  • The answer: It depends!
    • What goals are you trying to accomplish?
    • Does where you do your residency matter to you?
    • Will the faculty and resources of a particular residency program make a difference to you regarding your long-term goals?

If you need assistance, contact Dr. Richardson at mrichardson@physicianbound.com or text to 609.608.6258.