Should I take a gap year as a pre-med? Testimonial Part 1
It’s no secret that the number of non-traditional medical students in the United States has increased over the past decade, with schools like Harvard accepting 10% more gap year students in 2013 than in 2003. In addition, medical school advisors and admissions teams have been actively encouraging students to take that time off before matriculating, suggesting that it can serve as an “opportunity to gain life experience before committing to the profession, to develop interpersonal and scientific skills, and to bolster an application’s chance of success.”
If you are thinking of taking a gap year before attending medical school, you’re probably asking yourself: “What should I be doing during that time? How can I use my time most effectively to ensure that I am preparing myself for med school?”
Last week, Atlantis' own Julia Decelles-Zwerneman sat down with two of Atlantis’ Admissions Coordinators who also happen to be non-traditional pre-med students. She asked them about their backgrounds, why they chose to take time off, and what they’ve been doing during that time.
This week, you can read the first of those interviews with our Senior Admissions Coordinator and entrepreneurship enthusiast, David Gummel:
David, when did you graduate from college?
I graduated in 2014 from Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. I majored in business entrepreneurship, and I concentrated in pre-medicine. I was just a few credits short of a biology and a chemistry minor by the time I graduated.
Why did you choose to study business entrepreneurship?
"I sat down with my advisor, and she told me that I didn't have to be a science major in order to be pre-med."
I started out as a biochemistry major, which I enjoyed. However, during my freshman year, I sat down with my advisor, and she told me that I didn’t have to be a science major in order to be pre-med. I had a strong interest in business, because coming into college I had this pipe dream of starting a clinic at some point. I imagined myself doing something on the medical side of business or on the business side of medicine. So I enrolled in this major called business entrepreneurship. I knew at that point that I wanted to learn the language of business, which was accounting and finance, and gain experience in the development of a business, which was more on the entrepreneurship end of things. Entrepreneurship was a more comprehensive major, which included business planning, startup, business growth, etc. And it was a pretty new major at the time. Grove City had one of the earliest entrepreneurship schools in the United States - at least they were one of the first liberal arts schools to have one. It was new and exciting, and it offered such a comprehensive perspective of business.
Do you still want to open a clinic?
I don’t know. I’ve done some research on it, and if I did, it would probably be some sort of subsidized clinic. It would offer rotations for physicians and volunteers and would provide services to patients who are in the lower income bracket or who are on Medicare and Medicaid. I’m not married to that idea necessarily, but it might be interesting.
What attracts you to the field of medicine?
"I am attracted to medicine to be a helper in helping restore the way things ought to be. We can't necessarily fix the problem, but we can strive to make the mess a little more orderly."
Well, that is a long answer, but I'll try to break it down to some core components. Frankly, in my experience, medicine is one of the most tangible expressions of love. Medicine applies to all people in all places and is highly universal. This is a beautiful thing in the sense that it is a commonality between all humans, but it is a necessary evil, lest we forget. The only reason that medicine exists is because of the brokenness of the world that we witness around us. Sickness highlights that things are currently not the way they could or ought to be, and I am attracted to medicine to play a hand in helping to restore the way things ought to be. We can’t necessarily “fix” the problem, but we can strive to “make the mess a little more orderly.” So I am attracted to both the expression of love that is so easily found in medicine as well as the opportunity to contribute to the way things ought to be.
Other than working at Atlantis, what have you been doing during your gap time?
Right out of college, I enrolled in the Capital Fellows Program, which is a comprehensive leadership program that explores the dynamic of work, faith and vocation for young professionals, and during that time I worked as an accountant. I decided to take a job in that field, since, as I said before, it’s the language of business. And if you ever want to learn how non-profit or for-profit businesses are run, it’s helpful to understand how accounting works first. If you can follow the money, you can figure out how the organization operates. So I took this job, and even though it wasn’t necessarily high-level, I had the opportunity to see how spending happened in the very large non-profit that I was working for. It gave me pretty useful skills as far as accounting is concerned, and I learned how a non-profit operates, something that is applicable to medicine (most clinics are, of course, non-profit). It’s not necessarily a direct application, but it gave me some tangible experience in a field in which I was interested. Other than that, I’ve been pursuing various passions of mine in other areas of life.
“I am attracted to both the expression of love that is so easily found in medicine as well as the opportunity to contribute to the way things ought to be.”
Where in this process are you now? Are you still thinking about going to medical school?
That’s a great question. In short, I am very committed to applying to medical school and attending, if admitted. However, the process of mentally committing to this idea took me 3 years to form after graduating. Essentially, I feel that it was very necessary to be convinced in my own mind that medicine is what I want to do. I owe it to my future patients to have this internal conviction if I am to be a caretaker. I never want to be sitting in front of an admissions board [for a medical school] and making a case for why they should invest in me as a medical candidate if I’m not sold on it myself.
Of course, I have always been sold on the concept of medicine, and I’m confident that if I were to practice medicine, I would be a good physician. Getting there requires a lot of long nights, however, and I want to make sure that, if I’m going to make the jump into medical school, I have the stamina to stick with it. In addition, I have a number of interests that I thought might also be worth pursuing. Medicine won out in the end.
Did you ever shadow?
"I shadowed in the ER, and I found that I’m really attracted to the puzzle-like nature of the field."
Yes, I did an average amount of shadowing during undergrad and in high school. I have had the opportunity to shadow more recently on an Atlantis Fellowship and in Washington, DC. With each different field, I found an area that pulled me in, other than the medical aspect, of course.
For example: I shadowed in the ER, and I found that I’m really attracted to the puzzle-like nature of the field. I was intrigued by the situational nature of emergency medicine. You’re there on the front line, and you’ve got less than ten minutes with a patient to diagnose and triage them. I don’t like, though, that there’s a lesser degree of a relational aspect in ER medicine, so recently I’ve been thinking about investigating more relational areas of medicine such as palliative care. Currently, I volunteer part-time with a hospice clinic. Obviously, it is a very different environment than anything I’ve experienced. Yet, I have loved my experience there.
Did you do research as an undergraduate?
No. Because of my business major, the only experience I had with scientific research were the papers and pharmaceutical studies that I would read in my spare time (I find some of these studies fascinating). I did write two business plans, which in some ways, is a form of research. I also did some other research-oriented things in the business world, one of which was health-related. Particularly, I worked for Blue Shield Health Insurance in their innovations division. They were in this market share battle with another health care company in Pittsburgh, and they were basically looking for alternative revenue streams within healthcare. So they hired my classmates and me to discover and develop alternative revenue streams. So this was a form of research that wasn’t directly in the scientific or medical field but was highly related to my interests in those fields.
As you look ahead to medical school, do you think having studied business prepared you in unique ways?
Without a doubt. I believe that having a knowledge of business is so important for success in any field. Business is essentially tangential to all career paths. I think that the business experience that I had, although brief, gave me some tangible experience that I’m not sure every undergrad would otherwise have. It definitely prepared me for graduate school of any type but more specifically medical school. It’s so important for physicians to have autonomy when it comes to business. You can always apply business principles to medicine and healthcare, especially in private care or in a hospital setting.
What would you have done differently?
"If I could do it over again, I would have taken the pre-med classes later, so all that information had stayed fresh in my mind."
I would have flipped my order of studies. In college I ended up focusing on my pre-med requirements my first two years and then getting that business degree in my junior and senior years. If I could do it over again, I would have taken the pre-med classes later, so all that information had stayed fresh in my mind. I just took the MCAT in August of 2017, and it was harder to study for it having taken those science classes so long ago. What I found in studying for the exam was that I had to spend extra time relearning the material. Some of it came back relatively quickly, but other material came back more slowly.
The other thing I would do differently in undergrad is I would have found a way to get at least one of those two minors, specifically the chemistry minor. I was only one class short of completing that minor, and in the end it really came down to a scheduling difficulty. But if I could do it again I would have found a way to make that work. Oh, and one other item would be to take more music classes (laughs). I guess there are a few things I would have done differently.
Do you have any other general advice for pre-med students?
I think that taking a gap year is more valuable than just going straight into medical school, but I understand that everyone is different. In my opinion, taking a year or two off gives you the opportunity to experience the “real world” and develop yourself personally. I have friends who went straight from undergrad into med school and they knew exactly what they were going to do. These people are very driven and they knew that if they took a year off, it would have been hard to kickstart the engine again. Whatever you do, if you do decide to take a year off, give it a lot of thought. Make sure your year off isn’t just a break from school. Be sure that you’re contributing to something, keeping yourself active, and pursuing your passions. Let your resume build itself.
Next week, tune in for the second installment of this series and read Julia's interview with Elizabeth, a literature-loving art enthusiast.
David Gummel is a proud Ohioan, hailing from its Champion City of Springfield. He received an undergraduate degree in Business Entrepreneurship with a separate concentration in Pre-Medicine from Grove City College in western Pennsylvania. Since graduating, he has moved to Washington, D.C., and followed his passions, which led him to join the Atlantis team. Among David's varied interests that he pursues daily, there are a few that he loves most: Understanding and knowing people, medicine, music and composition, asking the question "Why?", learning, and living in strong community. He plans to apply to medical school during the 2018 cycle, with a specific interest in the palliative care field.
Julia grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated with high distinction from the University of Virginia with Bachelors degrees in biology and music. She plans to attend medical school in 2019. She has traveled abroad to eight countries in Europe, including France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. As a member of the Atlantis team, Julia enjoys helping other pre-med students discover a love for medicine and grow in their understanding of the field.