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Advice: Gap Year or Master's?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by tberry3, Jul 25, 2011.

  1. tberry3

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    Hi everyone - first-time poster here, so if this is in the wrong place, my apologies!

    In September, I'll be entering my 4th year of Electrical Engineering at Western. I spent most of my time in undergrad planning on pursuing graduate studies in Biomedical Engineering, but after several months of contemplation and research experience, I've realized that what I really want is to be a doctor.

    At this point, it's too late to take my MCATs and apply for the next cycle, so I'm left with two options: take a gap year, or go ahead and do my Master's and then apply for med school after that.

    I have lots of concerns, but I'll point out my biggest pros and cons about each option:

    • Gap Year Pros: I could take the summer after graduation to focus exclusively on studying for the MCATs. I've also been a bit light on the extra-cirriculars so far in my undergrad, so it would give me an opportunity to get some more volunteer experience (i.e. I'd like to spend a month or so volunteering overseas, and try to find general hospital volunteer opportunities during this year as well).
    • Gap Year Cons: Money would be a large issue - taking the summer off while paying for MCAT prep AND possibly travel to volunteer would empty out what little I have left in my bank account after putting myself through school. Then, after the summer, I'd be worried about finding a good job - if I take a gap year but just end up working a crappy retail job or something to pay the bills (while also volunteering as often as possible, of course), would that look bad? Basically the point is that if I take a gap year, I need to make sure it ends up being worthwhile. I don't know any doctors or have any "connections" though - how realistic would it be for me to even find opportunities to shadow or something like that? And if I end up doing poorly on my MCATs, then the whole year will have been wasted right away.
    • Master's Pros: I have great grades and research experience, so I could make some pretty decent money through scholarships if I do this. My research would also be in the area of cancer imaging, with some well-known scientists, which I'm sure would look good on a med school application. And if the med school thing doesn't work out, then at least I'll have a grad degree to show for my time after undergrad.
    • Master's Cons: The biggest worry here is having enough time to study and prepare for my MCATs. It'd also take two years after undergrad (as opposed to just one for the gap year), but that's not a huge concern for me - med school will always be there. But my main concern would be the MCATs. If anyone has any experience doing their MCATs during grad school, I'd be very interested to hear about your experiences!
    Anyways, given all of that (admittedly way too much) information, any advice or ideas that anyone could give would be greatly appreciated! I know that ultimately it's up to me, but I want to make an informed decision and I'm looking for as much help and information as I can get.

    Thanks a lot!
     
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  3. aSagacious

    Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

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    Tough call but my vote is for the gap year, as long as it is a productive one and you don't just 'take time off' to study for the MCAT and 'find yourself' (whatever that means). It is REALLY important to have clinical experience and altruistic experiences to list on your application. Good grades/MCAT and a ton of research is nice for grad school but if these are your only attributes it will make applying to med school very difficult.
     
  4. gujuDoc

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    Let me put it this way, if you have a strong GPA and you think your MCAT will be strong when u take it (which it usually is for engineering people), then there's no point in doing an MS. I'd work in research and volunteer/shadow. maybe you can find an engineering research position that is somewhat medical and engineering combination as my friend did this past year for his thesis project for BUSM.
     
  5. tberry3

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    It definitely wouldn't be to "find myself" - I'm the kind of person who likes to be as busy as possible, which is one of the main reasons I'm worried about doing the gap year - I'm worried about being able to find opportunities to do all of the things I want to do, particularly the clinical experience. Do you (or does anyone) have any tips on how to get good clinical experience (e.g. shadowing, or even working in a hospital)? I looked up volunteer opportunities at the hospitals in my city but as far as I could tell, they only offered 3-4 hour/week chances with no guarantee that they would even be clinical in nature (I could end up working in the gift shop), and are apparently highly competitive to get into in the first place. I'm more or less desperate for clinical experience but I really don't know how to go about finding it.
     
  6. aSagacious

    Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

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    Unfortunately, almost any paid hospital position (CNA, ER Tech, scribe, phlebotomy tech) is going to require a certification of some kind, which consumes both time and money. What I might suggest, if finding a volunteer position in the hospital is very competitive, is to find a nearby free clinic or urgent care that might be willing to accommodate a volunteer (they are often significantly understaffed). Simultaneously, it would be in your best interest to cold-call a bunch of physicians (hospital based or private practice) to secure a few shadowing positions. If you're looking for non-medical volunteering there are many organizations with whom you could spend your free time: community homeless shelter, habitat for humanity, Americorps, TFA, etc.
     
  7. gujuDoc

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    Well if u are by a med school I'd email physicians who are academic physicians by looking up emails ont he med school website and ask them politely if you can observe them for a few days. Try to observe different sort of physicians. I would also see if maybe you can find a free clinic to volunteer at. If there's none that take non spanish speakers, I'd find a childlife department where you can help by playing with kids. That will still expose u to patients more then being in the gift shop. Try to get waiting room positions if nothing else cuz you will be near patients that way to some degree.

    If you aren't desperate for money, you can get research associate positions as volunteer positions for a year that are full time because who doesn't love free labor?? ;) ;)

    I was doing full time at the lab I did my thesis at for zero pay. I learned a lot from it but I'd have found it harder if I was desperate for paid positions. Depends on your situation really.
     
  8. NewYorker9

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    I would take the gap year and I also agree with the feedback everyone else has given
     
  9. sha15

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    tberry;

    I just finished my first year of graduate school in pharmaceutical science with a pretty demanding advisor who isn't all that understanding. As soon as my courses ended in early May, I worked by day from 8-5ish, did some form of physical activity, then studied from around 8-11ish every night and roughly 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday, if I was not taking a practice test that day. I took the MCAT July 16 and still have a little while to get my scores back but I got myself prepared and got my test averages to about 32-33 so we will see how it turns out.

    With that said, it was not easy, but if you want it you can get it done. You just have to make sacrifices for about 2-3 months or so. Also, your advisor could be a lot more supportive than mine, and it will be a little easier. Sure it would have been nice to study without having to do so much research, but I wasn't 100% set on medicine when I started and this has really gotten me to focus. Additionally, I think I'm going to be well prepared for medical school through the experience.

    Anyway, that's my story. Good luck.
     
  10. CattL

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    Hi I would recommend a gap year, it will be a good chance to take some time out and get some experience if you need to brush up on your volunteer work. I wouldn't worry about not having anything to do; you could go for something like this http://www.realgap.com/Malawi-Medical-Volunteers, as part of your gap year, which will take you overseas and get you some useful experience. The rest of the year can be for study and volunteering at home!
     

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