An uncomfortable truth coming up…
Most applicants don’t get into medical school. It’s around 1 in 3 (dental is even more competitive).
If you end up being in the two who don’t get in, all is not lost. A gap year is a great chance to grow as a person and really improve your application. Let’s face it, a year is nothing to worry about.
So how can you make the most of this opportunity?
The Director of Medical Admissions at Imperial says:
“We believe that a well-planned and used gap year is beneficial to students and we encourage students to consider it. Gap years give students opportunities for new life experiences which help them grow, mature and reflect. From our experience, students who take taken a gap year have not regretted it and it does not impair academic performance”
If you were thinking about a year partying your way around European hostels, you might want to reconsider. A gap year should combine self-development and fun. That doesn’t mean adventure is off the cards, but you should try to blend it with activities relevant to your degree.
That’s not to say you have to work in a hospital for a year. You can try activities that develop your soft skills like leadership or interpersonal communication. This can be through work experience, volunteering, clubs and societies, or any other means of exemplifying core values for medicine and dentistry.
So is it worth it? That really depends on how you use the time.
Want to make the most of your time? Learn how to get work experience for medicine and dentistry.
Obviously, your freedom to travel and work in certain places may be restricted due to the pandemic.
Plan for this by working around your limitations.
In 2021, the number of repeat medicine applications was about 15% of the total. Remember, the majority of applicants don’t get in the first time. They are faced with the choice between a gap year or other Plan B routes.
These are pre-organised experiences, generally with other people on gap years. You can choose a full-year programme or do a series of short-term experiences.
This could be anything from teaching in Peru to sailing the world for months at a time, and can factor into your existing gap-year plan. Remember, it doesn’t have to be academically or vocationally focused, as long as you’re developing relevant skills.
Getting work experience during your gap year can help prove you know what you’re getting into. It doesn’t have to be the most obvious setting - like a hospital or a GP surgery. You can volunteer for charities or work in an unrelated field. You can also increase your direct vocational knowledge virtually, or by following blogs, podcasts and other publications.
We recently interviewed a dental student called Samar, who studies at the University of Manchester. She explained how she took a gap year when she didn’t get into dental school and used the year to improve her application. She even ended up getting dental work experience abroad, which allowed her to compare how different countries approach dental healthcare during her interview.
Melanie, who recently studied medicine at Manchester, didn't get in the first time around. Without the money to do a gap-year programme, she decided to work at her local veterinary clinic. She observed clinical skills which she was able to comment on in her application, as well as saving some money. After 6 months, Melanie was able to take a volunteering opportunity in Chad, where she taught English to local children.
"Arriving in N'Djamena for the first time was an absolutely mad and unforgettable experience, and I'll never get over how amazing it was to be so out of my depth and just find a way to make it work."
Once you’ve started studying medicine, many people choose to take a gap year between their foundation years and beginning a specialty. This is a natural point to take a break from your studies and try something new.
Intercalation can form part of this. While it’s not technically a gap year, it’s a chance to do something new. You study a new subject before resuming your original degree. Note that this is not offered by all medical schools.
Avoid falling victim to Parkinson’s Law - work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Get around this by planning as carefully as possible.
Most volunteering programmes cost from £150-£300 a week, sometimes excluding accommodation, travel visas, health insurance or any additional potential expenses.
1. There are teaching programmes where you could get paid to teach English to foreign students abroad.
2. You could get a job and work for a few months to fund the second half of your gap year.
3. Ask your family for help.
4. Apply for bursaries and grants specifically aimed at helping students fund their gap years.
12 months might feel like a long time…until you start attempting to fit everything you want to do on to a calendar.
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario:
Set deadlines. There are two kinds - the ones you can control and the ones you can’t.
Work to fund your gap year (in most cases this is decided by the employer)
The dates of volunteer programmes (in most cases)
Virtual work experience (usually unpaid and flexible)
Regardless of how you have performed in your UCAT or BMAT, these results expire after a year and applying again means you’re required to take them again.
You can schedule the UCAT for whenever suits you (within the registration window) and, since the BMAT only applies to a small number of schools, you could get away with not taking it.
Having extra preparation time during your gap year could give you the edge you need on the competition.
Keep in mind that applying to medical schools outside of UCAS might require other entrance exams, e.g. HPAT for Ireland and if you’re applying as a graduate, GAMSAT for Australia.
Since universities require an academic reference, there will come a time when you will have to reach out to your former school or college to request one.
Secure contact at your school so you can ask for help when you need to. This trusted advisor who knows you and the strengths of your application will also be able to give you personalised advice when it comes to where to apply, interview feedback, etc., making the process that much easier in the long run.
Alternatively, if you’re a mature student requiring a reference, contact the medical school you’re applying to discuss your options.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your gap year, a successful applicant will reflect on their experiences to prove their motivation and aptitude.
It almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you can demonstrate what you’ve learned and how you believe the experience has had a positive influence on your future in healthcare.
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