Whether you are a pre-med or nursing student about to graduate college or you simply want to explore a new path in life and medicine sounds exciting, consider doing a medical program abroad for your gap year.
A gap year is a planned break, a 'gap,' that usually spans at least a year between the end of college and before the start of graduate school or a full-time job. This intentional gap year allows you to do something meaningful in the medical field, whether it's studying for the MCAT, volunteering in a healthcare setting, or completing a medical internship program abroad.
By following this path, you will have the chance not only to learn more about the human body but also to travel and add experiences to your resume. A well-planned gap year allows you to stand out amongst other candidates on your application to medical school and in future employment. You'll have plenty of talking points for your interviews! Most importantly, you will be able to help people that are in urgent need of medical assistance.
Now that your interest is peaked, read on to learn about the different types of experiences available and a list of medical gap year programs you can start applying to right away.
This is a perfect opportunity for all doctors and nurses-to-be. Such an internship will give you a chance to observe what you have learned in the classroom in a clinical setting. Shadowing a physician in a hospital and observing procedures will give you a glimpse of what to look forward to in your medical career. Furthermore, learning and seeing first-hand more about health on a global scale will undoubtedly be a very inspirational once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For the more academics-oriented gap year volunteers interested in studying different diseases and treatments, a medical research gap year might be a perfect fit. Such opportunities are likely to be found and funded through American academic institutions, making it possible for you to still be involved in the research even after your return from abroad.
Combatting HIV and AIDS is one of the biggest and most difficult health battles that humankind has yet to win. Although by the end of 2012, close to a million of the people living with HIV from low and middle-income countries received antiretroviral therapy (ART) thanks to various HIV/AIDS medical and awareness campaigns, there are 19 million other people who are eligible for ART but still lack access to the drugs. By participating in an HIV/AIDS awareness program abroad (that doesn’t necessarily require a medical background), you can help thousands or even millions of people get access to the drugs they need.
Helping and living with mentally and/or physically disabled children is a challenge, even with the technological advances and medical access in the Western world. So you can only imagine how difficult the lives of disabled children from developing countries are. The best part of this type of medical gap year program is that, as long as you are interested in working with children and maybe have some relevant experience, you can easily work in a school, orphanage, or hospital and improve the quality of life of deserving small humans.
Prevention is another crucial part of medicine that doesn’t require extensive post-college medical education. People who choose to spend their gap year doing health education internships usually consist of conducting health education classes with people of all ages at hospitals, schools, workplaces, or public forums. The most common topics of the education classes are often safe sexual and reproductive health, healthy diets, and sanitation.
Planning Your Trip
When applying for a medical program during your gap year, give yourself plenty of time in advance to research the region and/or the type of program (volunteering, interning, etc.) in which you are interested. Also, don’t wait until the last moment to fill out the application – you will be surprised how rigorous certain applications may be. There are several providers offering medical internship programs that are great for gap year students. Some of these include:
Volunteering Solutions is a leading volunteer and internship program provider offering programs in multiple countries around the world. Check out their Healthcare Internships in Nepal, in which interns work with nurses and doctors in public and private hospitals. The internships are 1-3 months, and the program activities vary depending on the student's knowledge and skills.
Gap Medics, a top provider for programs for aspiring medical workers, whose Physician Shadowing Program in Tanzania is a unique opportunity for pre-med students to spend 1-4 weeks in a Tanzanian hospital. Students can choose between shadowing practitioners specializing in the fields of dentistry, pediatrics, surgery, and obstetrics.
Eli Abroad is a prime provider for medical internships. Their Medical Internship in Ecuador is a perfect fit for any pre-medical and medical student who is interested in improving their Spanish skills and learning some medical vocabulary in Spanish. Interns are placed in an Ecuadorian hospital based on their skill-level and experience.
Frontier is a leading provider of volunteer and gap year programs in various countries around the world. They offer internships as part of the Nepal Children's Hospital Medical Project, where participants work at a health center that provides complete healthcare and medical services to the local community. Day-to-day activities vary, depending on the experience and knowledge of the participants.
African Impact is a well-established provider of volunteer and intern programs in a number of African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The majority of their programs are opened to inexperienced volunteers who go on home visits, assist in local hospitals with basic medical and administration tasks.
Many of the medical internships are semester-long, lasting 3 months, and can be found through US universities that partner with a university or a health institution in the destination country. Talk to your professor, the department chair of the pre-medical or medical program at your school, the career center, and the study abroad office.
Additional Resources for Medical Internships include:
- The World Health Organization
- The Clinton Global Initiative
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Contributed by Tina Mangelova
Need to Know
Costs of a Medical Gap Year Program
The costs of your gap year will depend on the type of program you choose. Most programs are unpaid volunteer or internship positions that provide exposure and hands-on experience to students who are not yet registered healthcare professionals. Some medical programs require paying the airfare and visa costs and a small fee for accommodation, food, and airport transfers. However, it's possible to find a medical gap year program that is paid in some way -- for example, they may provide housing with a host family and meals, plus a small stipend in exchange for your work. You would still be in charge of paying for visas, transportation, and travel insurance.
You may also run into medical programs that cost a hefty price because of the intense workshop and training you receive at the program. In this case, these medical placements also have some sort of financial aid available or help you fundraise your program fee. A great option is to look into grants and scholarships to offset the cost of your gap year.
Medical Gap Year Programs
What should I do in my gap year before medical school?
There are many options for a medical gap year including studying for your MCAT, volunteering at a hospital, scribing for doctors, teaching public health to the community, and finding other relevant clinical experiences whether domestically or abroad.
When should I take the MCAT if I'm taking a gap year?
Take your MCAT around May of your senior year of college so that your studies are fresh in your mind and you have time to submit your scores for medical school applications.
What do you do in a gap year in medical?
There are many options for how to make a gap year before medical school valuable. For example, you could volunteer abroad with an organization that provides medical placements, you could shadow doctors at a foreign hospital, or you could find a medical internship program where you practice your skills and learn another language. There are a number of options, and just as many organizations, that can make a medical gap year a fulfilling and challenging experience.