Taking a year off from school, a so called "gap year", is common in many parts of the world but not in the US. The recent announcement that President Obama's daughter will be taking a gap year before attending Harvard has highlighted the idea, and, as you would expect, some support it and others think it is a bad idea.
I think it is a great idea if you have the means and opportunity to do it and you structure it correctly. In fact, we should strongly encourage it at various stages of medical career development. Here's why:
1. Whether it is between college and medical school, medical school or residency or at some point during your practicing career, it would give gappers time to decompress and "get their heads screwed on".
2. It would give gappers time to do something other than medicine that would give them another perspective. They can then use that experience to improve medicine or just improve themselves.
3. It would give gappers time to pursue innovative or entrepreneurial activities
4. It would give gappers more choice and derive more meaning from what they are doing
5. It will give gappers the opportunity, particularly if they travel, to develop cultural competencies and all that comes with it
6. Gap years should not be reserved for just undergraduate and medical students. Maybe even more importantly,practitioners should do it too. Maybe it should be part of your 10/20/30 Plan, or what to do after you tell someone to take that white coat and shove it.
7. Taking a break does not have to be for an entire year. How about taking all that unlimited vacation time your employer just promised you?
8. Also, a gap year could be your senior year abroad when you didn't do it as an undergrad. I did and loved it.
9. When you take a year off, you will discover whether you have been successful in making yourself disappear as an entrepreneur and validate how truly non-essential you are for your business.
10. Planning to take a gap year will force you to do a better job at financial planning, getting rid of stuff you don't need and debt management.
Over half of medical schools already have an arrangement whereby students can take a one year leave of abscence. But they call it something other than a gap year. They call it getting an MBA.
Jimmy Buffett wants you to take a holiday. So do I.
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org