February 25, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Using the gap year productively

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To the Editor:

Re: “Mind the Gap: Putting Med School on Hold,” Opinion, Feb. 19

Let me first mention that I am a Professor of Surgery at the NYU School of Medicine and am involved in our medical school admissions process. Let me hasten to add that I am writing as an individual and not in any official capacity.

We have a large number of accomplished and brilliant Cornell undergraduates as medical students here at the NYU School of Medicine. Their diversity of experiences and backgrounds add a great deal to the character of our classes. I agree with Dr. (almost) Morgenstern and Mr. Karmali. Medical students who are slightly older have a better world view and a better understanding of why they chose medicine and where they are headed in our complex field. However there are a few caveats. If you take a year or more between college and medical school, you should use it productively. If you are in a research lab, you should have participated in meaningful research that is important and publishable. Being a lab assistant cleaning equipment or shadowing physicians may not be a valuable addition to your curriculum vitae. If you travel abroad for public health experiences, again you should be able to report meaningful contributions to the population you are seeking to help. Finally, keep in mind that medical — and especially surgical — training can be lenghty. Realistically, you will be in your mid-30s before you can expect to start practice and earn a reasonable income. Adding a year to the process between college and medical school has real implications here.

In any event, my advice is that if you plan to take a year between Cornell and medical school, be sure it is productive. Good luck — we desperately need thoughtful and informed physicians.

Dr. Mark S. Hochberg, professor of surgery, NYU School of Medicine