You have thought long and hard about the consequences and the stakes, and you have finally decided that taking a gap year right now is the best decision that you can take in your circumstances. Gap years are considered ‘naps’ to ease up the daily routine and go out in the real world, whether it’s travel before college, a study abroad to break up the monotony, an internship to dive further into a passion, or a volunteer placement to broaden charitable horizons.
Whatever the reason for this decision, it is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of pressure that comes with it. I have seen some of the brightest students I know crumble under the stress of a gap year even though its raison d’être is to do the exact opposite. With the omicron variant of the SARS-COV-2 (more commonly known as COVID-19) on the rise, we could be witnessing a sharp increase in the number of students taking a gap year. Many of them will be unprepared for what’s about to hit them. So how does one go about a gap year without losing their marbles and profiting from the experience?
- Dehaze your goals and objectives (Get done with your bucket list)
Whether you are taking a gap year to improve your academic score, or trying to take time for your mental and physical health in this immensely pressurizing field, one must reorient themselves with their goals regularly. If you start out your gap year with the thought process that you have a whole year ahead of you, and you need not plan just yet, I want to be the bearer of some unfortunate news and inform you that this is not the right approach. Your gap year is an opportunity to take a breather and work on yourself, in an environment without competition and judgment of your peers weighing you down. This is the perfect time to reevaluate your interests and priorities, and formulate a plan which you can follow at your own pace. Start early with a plan, or you will find the whole year has passed without you having accomplished what you set out to do.
- Build a healthy routine
When in high school, most of us were trapped in a vicious cycle of bad habits, which has a deteriorating effect on our health. According to a report, among high school students, 72.7% reported insufficient sleep, with about 20% reporting sleeping fewer than 6 hours a night.
Not only this, but with more than two-fifths of high school students having depression, a bunch of us are continuing to battle the same difficulties and bad habits. Add the stress of medical school directly on top of it, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Use your gap year to adjust your sleep schedule, and work on your mental health. Identifying trigger points of stress, and seeking therapy is highly recommended. Most of us re-experience high school as we oscillate between working ourselves to the bone in order to meet the demands of med school or procrastinating for days on end with severe burnout. These set of habits are pure self-sabotage which will make managing the years of med school a form of torture. During my gap year, I broke my years-old habit of procrastination by following the 5-minute rule daily. Instead of piling everything on my plate once a week, I would do a task regularly each day in order to make it a habit.
I also countered my stress-induced insomnia in high school through therapy, improving my diet, and making a proper sleep schedule.
- Explore hobbies, old and new
Being unable to make time for my hobbies, and losing interest in them was a frightening ordeal I experienced in high school. Abandoning things that brought me joy was one of the biggest mistakes on my part as the struggle to meet academic demands completely drained me. In my gap year I made sure to get back into my habit of reading, writing and painting. By the time I got into med school, I realized how essential it was to have a life and hobbies outside of medical education. While my peers were complaining how their whole life and routine had been usurped by med school, I experienced only a fraction of that stress. I had already made sure to realign with hobbies, activities, and interests that made my life enjoyable and pleasant outside of my medical career.
- Reconnect with old friends
Attending college, paving your way through life, and putting in the long arduous hours eventually makes one realize how essential having good friends is. When one chooses a field, be it medicine or some other demanding job, at the end of the day, they must have a support system to rely on. During my gap year, one of the greatest highlights was getting to see my friends on a more regular basis.
Meeting up with old friends or making new ones is a testament to how great life can be. You should allow yourself these moments of reprieve and bliss, taking note of how life isn’t so bleak afterall. With friends who are going through the same experiences in life, transitioning into adulthood and learning their way through life, it feels quite comforting to know that you aren’t alone in the midst of it all.
- Get into research or an internship
Adding research to your academic record is akin to gilding it with gold. Research might prove to be one of the most useful things you’ll do in your gap year. It provides immense clarity to the student, sharpens their perspective regarding their career choices further down the line of medicine and results in the formation of connections with new mentors.
Research makes your medical school application stand out, and it helps you make new acquaintances. As you harness your skills, it guarantees that during med school or after graduation, you might be able to write research papers which will set you apart from your peers. Don’t deny yourself this opportunity..
- Get a temporary job or acquire a skill
Most people who are new to their medical careers end up thinking that they should invest all their time and energy solely into this one aspect of their life if they want to excel. This can become quite overwhelming in the long run. Getting a temporary job is a splendid way of utilizing your time and supporting yourself. Getting a job will also make sure that you learn how to manage your time effectively and discipline yourself, by dividing your work hours and leisure hours.
I’ve always felt better about myself when I polish my personality by acquiring new skills. It makes me realize that I’ve made good use of my resources. I learned to play guitar during my gap year, a hobby associated with fond memories. It not only helps me to destress, but there’s always room to get better and master new skills from time to time.
In a nutshell, your gap year could be one of the most memorable and productive years of your life. You’ll be holding the reins, steering yourself towards success, and finding contentment with a routine you’ve made yourself. James A Forde didn’t say in vain, “You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”