Upon graduating from medical school, graduates can be broadly sorted into two types. On the one hand, there are those who have a clear-cut plan of what they want to do immediately after graduation. They know what they want to specialise in, where to do their training and so on – having charted their career path and the steps they will take to achieve their desired future.

On the other hand, there are those who are just glad to have graduated and finally become a licensed doctor, but have no clue on where to go from this point onwards, uncertain of their interest or how to get there. The majority would go into non-training resident roles. For example, they go on duty in various hospitals and cover the emergency room, wards or special areas.

Taking the year off

Some graduates take a year off before embarking on a residency. For some, this year off comes with no choice – they do not make the match for the residency programme they applied to and would need to wait another year for the next opening. In the US, it was reported that 8,640 out of approximately 29,000 applicants for the first-year residency did not get placed in a programme, and they cannot practice medicine until they have completed their residency training.

For others, they take a year off simply to rest and relax. After years of studying hard in medical school and making many sacrifices to excel in their studies, they want some time to recharge their bodies and minds. Work-life balance is an increasingly important concern for the younger generation, including aspiring doctors and healthcare professionals. Thus, more and more graduates are looking to take time off to explore their own interests. They could spend their year off doing leisurely activities like travelling, engaging in hobbies or sports activities or just take that well-deserved rest as they would say.

Waste of time?

There are a number of doctors who disagree with the idea of a year off, as it is seen as a waste of time or a disruption to the student’s training in the medical field. In response to whether those unmatched graduates could be allowed to practice medicine under specific conditions without going through residency, most of the traditional medical establishments in the US are against the idea. They argued that these graduates may not have enough experience to practice medicine independently, and suggested creating openings for residency openings.

As such, instead of simply taking a break, some students chose to make use of this year off to be more productive, like building up their resume. Some travel to foreign countries or go to low-income areas to do volunteer outreach medical work. Others get involved in research or take up training courses or masters to make them more competitive in the next round of openings for their desired residency programme.

How long is too long?

For taking time off before residency, what is considered too long is highly dependent on the individual. For those who want to get into the cutting edge field and to sub-specialize, they should foresee a good 7-8 years of residency and delaying the start is not that good of an idea. They should keep in mind that after speciality training, they do not automatically have patients flowing through their clinic doors immediately. It would take some time to establish their practice, and most may not be fine with waiting until their mid-forties to start earning well and live comfortably.

Also, a problem that is specific to female doctors is the desire to start a family. While it is not impossible to be both a mother and a resident at the same time, the decision of when to have a child and when to have their residency training will be a tricky one for most female doctors.

There are various reasons for taking a year off between graduation from medical school and residency training. Some might be forced to take a year off because they failed to get matched, while others might have done so out of their own volition to rest or to beef up their resumes. Regardless, if they do decide to take some time off, they should plan carefully and make the best use of this year – possibly the only time when they could relax before throwing themselves back into years of rigorous training. MIMS

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