Should UK Students Take a Gap Year Before Medicine?

Published on 04/05/2022 in
gap year after medicine

Many UK students consider taking a gap year after high school for various reasons. While there are undeniable advantages and disadvantages of taking a break, the verdict is not so clear for aspiring doctors as it is in the general case. This in-depth article examines whether a gap year is actually a good idea for medicine applicants.

Why do students take a gap year?

According to a study performed by the American Gap Association, the top three motivations to take a gap year after secondary school are as follows:

  • 92% wanted to gain experience and personal growth
  • 85% wanted to travel, see the world, and experience other cultures
  • 81% wanted a break from the academic track

However, the above data is representative of students who wanted to take a gap year. Therefore, people on the fence about getting a break might not feel particularly passionate about any of the above motivations. Furthermore, students who are against it would not be included in this study.

Why do aspiring doctors take a gap year after high school?

They usually do it to improve their chances of admission into medical schools by focusing on the main entry requirements:

  • Improve their A Levels or GCSE grades
  • Improve their entrance exam scores (UCAT or BMAT)
  • Work on their character profile and extracurricular activities

Sadly, getting into medicine is very competitive in the UK. Less than half of the applicants make it through the entry requirements sift. Some students believe that applying for medicine after a gap year would make them stronger candidates. Perhaps, they see it as the best way to achieve their dream.

What if they still get rejected from medical school after it?

Furthermore, some students feel disheartened after failing to gain admission into a medical school, and they choose a gap year as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, failure can be a hard blow to take, and it can have a devastating effect on the confidence of aspiring doctors.

Is taking a gap year worth it?

There is an ongoing debate whether a gap year has an overall positive or negative impact on students and their academic future. There are some decent arguments on both sides, and there are some very flimsy ones as well. An objective correct answer doesn't exist to this question. Instead, students should evaluate the pros and cons for their particular case. The following paragraphs examine the debate from the unique perspective of an aspiring doctor.

What are the advantages of taking a gap year?

Here are the pros of taking a gap year through the lens of some honest scepticism:
Preparation for university admission. Students could spend the year preparing for exams and fixing their A Levels/GCSE grades. The effort should pay off with better grades and test scores, but competition for admission doesn’t get easier with each year. What if it is still not enough for admission?
Job experience. Students can try various career options and figure out what they like. However, universities do not require work experience for admission. Moreover, earning a living could prove quite enticing for young people, and they might postpone higher education indefinitely.
Travelling and life experience. Seeing the world is unarguably a great experience. However, there are good ways and even better ways to do it. For example, hitchhiking abroad is a great story indeed, but studying medicine in Europe is a truly momentous experience.
It’s a break from school. Ironically, students do need a break from school. While it’s meant as preparation for life, school has become a way of living for teens. No wonder some choose to stay away from it for good. According to a Wall Street Journal article, 10% of students that take a gap year never make it back to school.
Opportunity for maturity. Students could grow in maturity during a gap year. Much like cheese.

What are the disadvantages of taking a gap year?

It’s a waste of time. For anyone intending to pursue an education and career, taking a break after high school could be a waste of time. For aspiring doctors, however, it’s an even bigger waste because they study for a minimum of six years. Factor in a couple of foundation years and three specialisation years, and suddenly time seems much more precious.
Regret. Students who take a break often see their peers accomplish what they still struggle with. Having a mate from high school start their second semester in the university can leave a bittersweet taste in the mouth. It can seem a lot like life is passing by, while watching peers upload their student-life experiences on social media.
Shame. Gap years are not a common occurrence. Many people might view it as a sign of failure or laziness. Being the target of shaming is a quite possible and unpleasant scenario.
Isolation. The end of high school is often the end of certain social circles. Students go away to universities or get a full-time job with new demands on their schedules. They build and nurture new connections. Therefore, taking a gap year could mean sudden social isolation and a lack of a circle of support.
Financial strain. Taking a gap year without working at least a part-time job could put pressure on the family finances. As people grow, so do their appetites. Thus, students taking a break might have to face unsatisfied wants.
Loss of motivation and momentum. With school gone, the world would rush in to fill the vacuum. Good habits could easily disappear within a year of relative leisure. Too much gaming, TV, and sports can rob students of their enthusiasm and focus.

Why taking a gap year is bad

A gap year is not a bad choice for everyone. For example, creative professions would benefit greatly from it because they thrive on freedom and openness. For a musician or writer, taking a break would be the perfect way to explore the human condition and master their craft. Where most people would feel like falling through existence, creatives would feel like flying at supersonic speed.

However, people focused on structure and conscientiousness would most certainly feel like fish out of water during a gap year. Aspiring doctors, lawyers, and engineers would experience acute distress because they are kept from what they truly desire - to study the intricacies of their crafts.

All the benefits of a gap year like travelling and life experiences would make more sense to them as a consequence of their career path. That’s why many choose to study abroad if they don’t get admitted to UK universities. This way, they get two birds with one stone.

Is it worth taking a gap year for medicine?

Time is precious to aspiring doctors, and a break after high school would only delay their dreams. Most of the benefits that a gap year provides are negligible and involve risk. In contrast, none of the negatives is alleviated in the slightest.

Taking a break from school to prepare for the following admission cycle could end up in failure that costs extreme amounts of frustration. Moreover, it seems like the very definition of madness - doing the same thing and expecting different results.

In contrast, aspiring doctors can apply to a European medical programme where entry competition is manageable. They will gain all the advantages of a gap year, such as travelling, foreign culture, and life experiences, without any of the disadvantages.

Great accomplishments do not necessarily require striving, and the scenic route doesn’t always take longer.

The Medlink Students team has learned these lessons from both personal experience and the stories of countless students. Schedule a free WhatsApp consultation to get your personalised route to a medical degree.

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Article written by Medlink Students
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