Students share gap year and med school advice

By JUNYAO LI | November 21, 2019

For those who have decided to take a gap year between their undergraduate education and medical school, the question of what to do during that year can be overwhelming. Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta), a collegiate honor society and academic fraternity for students of the biological sciences, hosted a Research & Medicine Gap-Year Student Panel earlier this month. Four Hopkins alum, who are currently on their gap years, shared their experiences on the panel. 

Justin Thomas graduated with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology and he is currently in his second gap year. He provided insights for students aspiring to pursue an MD-PhD degree. 

He realized that a lot of MD-PhD applicants obtain a master’s degree prior to application, so he spent his first gap year at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. To obtain more research experience, which is especially important for the pursuit of a research heavy MD-PhD program, he joined a lab at the Institute for Cell Engineering at Hopkins. 

Hanna Hong, an alum who majored in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Anysia Lee, an alum who majored in Neuroscience, also gave their advice about gap years. They are both currently working as post-baccalaureate fellows at the National Institutes of Health. Hong works on the surgical oncology program, through which she is able to gain research experience as well as opportunities to shadow doctors in the operating room. Lee conducts research on drug abuse.

Anna Koerner, who graduated last year with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology, shared her unique experience during her gap year. She took the non-traditional route by working as a tutor in biology and chemistry, while also working as a barista at Brody Cafe during her gap year.

When asked about whether she was concerned about the impact of her atypical experience on her medical school application, Koerner said she wanted to do what made her happy, and that working as a barista fulfilled her passion for coffee while also allowing her to develop soft people skills, something that is translatable to her future career in medicine. 

She also said that her unique experience has been received warmly during her interviews for medical school, diffusing the concerns of an audience member who also planned to go an unconventional route.

All panelists expressed, to varying degrees, that they regret applying for their respective positions for their gap years a bit late. However, they also gave reassurance that there are a lot of opportunities, and that students are able to find something regardless.

Thomas and Koerner are currently applying for medical school and they mentioned that when choosing what to do during a gap year, it is important to find a program or a job that is flexible enough to accommodate for interview seasons from September to February. They also warn students that their secondary application can be taxing, and that time management is the key to success.

The Life Design Lab also provides great resources in finding the right gap year experience, according to Ellen Snydman, the associate director of the Office of Pre-Professional Programs and Advising. 

As students traverse their way through all the options, they should keep in mind that they are not alone. According to Snydman, for the entry year of 2018, 82 percent of medical school applicants from Hopkins chose to take a gap year in order to either raise their GPA, prepare for the MCAT or to obtain meaningful experience and boost their medical school application. Further, Snydman explained that the extra time allows students time to conduct valuable self exploration. 

“[Gap years allow students to] be able to reflect on why medicine, and what motivates you to be a physician,’’ Snydman said in an interview with The News-Letter

Snydman emphasized that the road to a career in medicine is by no means easy. 

“This is a journey. And I want our students to really think about that journey that they are taking,” Snydman said. “This is a profession that requires caring and compassion, but also time and effort to ensure applicants are applying at their strongest.” 

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