Medical school gap year: Why working as a medical assistant is perfect

The words “gap year” are enough to panic any high-achieving premedical student with their heart set on matriculating straight into medical school. Many students feel like a gap year will set them back in their journey to become a doctor, adding more years to the ever-long path to an MD behind their name. What these students do not realize is the value that a meaningful gap year, or more, can add to their application, their life, and their why.

Everyone has an opinion about what a gap year should look like. As I polled the physicians and medical students that I know, some said to focus on research to strengthen my CV with as many publications as possible. Others advised me to spend this unique time out of school traveling, making money, or volunteering. Initially it seemed that there was an overwhelming number of options, but each had drawbacks and upon further inspection, many did not seem feasible for my relatively short time frame. I tried my best to balance my skills and experience, which were minimal, with salary, to help me eventually pay for medical school, with what I actually wanted to spend my time doing for the next year.

I decided to focus on what drew me to the medical field originally when choosing what to do with my gap year, patient care. I quickly found out however that getting a job in patient care with zero experience would not be so simple. I explored options as an emergency medical technician (EMT), surgical scrub technician, ophthalmic technician, nurses’ aide, medical assistant, and countless other allied health positions. I quickly found out that even with a bachelor’s degree, I was not qualified for any of these positions. Most of the jobs that I was applying to in order to gain experience in health care, required at least three years of experience in health care.

After exploring the specific training requirements and time frames of each allied health opportunity, I decided that being a medical assistant would likely be the most achievable for me. As someone who is used to being over-prepared, I found it quite intimidating to apply for jobs that I did not have all of the qualifications for. While I did not necessarily tick all of the boxes on the job postings I was applying for, I knew that if given an opportunity, I could learn quickly. I applied to many jobs, and I got a lot of “no’s,” but it takes only one yes.

I found that private practices were much more likely to accept uncertified medical assistants without experience and provide on-the-job training than academic facilities. I was honest about my time frame in my applications, letting my potential employers know that I was in the process of applying to medical school – meaning that I would not be staying at this job forever. In general, the honesty was appreciated, and it made my lack of certification make more sense.

Working as a medical assistant during my gap year has taught me so much about the underbelly of health care, what patient care really looks like, the role of health care workers as advocates for patients, and countless more invaluable lessons that I never could have learned during my undergraduate education. I have gained confidence in my decision-making, my ability to communicate with patients, and even performing and assisting with minor procedures.

The role of a medical assistant can vary greatly depending on the specialty and practice setting. I am extremely fortunate to work at a practice that supports me and my journey while allowing me the autonomy and privilege of making meaningful contributions to patient care. The physicians that I work with provide me with excellent mentorship and have shown me the gold standard of patient-centered care that I hope to emulate in the future.

Natalie Enyedi is a premedical student.

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