The Dos and Don’ts of the Gap Year for Physician Assistants

By Meghan Kayan, Aspiring PA and ThriveAP Contributor

It’s not uncommon for college graduates to take a year off prior to matriculation into a graduate program. This is a path that I have chosen, and although it sometimes can feel like gap years can stall your entrance into your future, it’s also a great way to make sure you’re truly on the right path. I’ve found that throughout my year as a post graduate, there are a few things that can help me along in the hopes of getting into PA school.


  • Research your schools: Schools change prerequisites over time to accommodate their fast paced curricula. A school that you thought you were qualified for may have added a class that you didn’t take in your undergraduate year or increased the amount of direct patient care hours. Make sure you refresh yourself on what schools you have looked at in the past so you don’t find yourself crossing off potential schools because one of their requirements changed.
  • Shadow: Shadowing is the best way to see if what you think you want to do is really the right career path. Sometimes it is hard in the medical field because there are so many careers to pick from, yet they all vary in subtle ways. Shadowing allows you to see what exactly you would be doing before you are expected to do it.
  • Work on your hours: Although most schools have a minimum number of hours required to be considered a qualified candidate, the average number of direct patient care hours of the students they enroll, generally, far surpass the minimum. The more hours you work, the more qualified a candidate and the more comfortable you will be in patient care situations.
  • Find a hobby: It can get boring solely preparing for graduate school. It can feel like you’re taking a semesters worth of courses on preparing yourself to even apply. By finding something that interests you and making it a habit to do it, you can break the monotony of the gap year.
  • Work: Most graduate programs are very intensive and, as for PA programs, recommend that you don’t work a job during your program enrollment because you invest so much time in your studies. By working before entering a program you will have some funds (hopefully!) saved up so that you don’t stress out about finances.


  • Put off your program search: Be proactive in looking for schools. Not only will this give you a good idea of if you’re qualified for certain programs, but if you’re not you can supplement your résumé by taking post graduate courses. By searching early you can visit schools and really get a feel for how their program is run.
  • Stress out: One of my biggest fears in taking a gap year was that I am putting my future on hold. This is a real fear for a lot of college graduates who have yet to move onto ‘real adulthood’. Although being able to answer the question ‘what do you do for a living?’ is a neat thing to do, don’t worry. Your day will come, and imagine how great it will finally feel to answer that question with “I’m a Certified Physician Assistant”.
  • Settle: It’s true that the average age of students entering PA school is 27. When most college students graduate they are 22 years old. This leaves a long period of time between graduation and entering a program. Although it might be easy to choose a program that has fewer prerequisites and a shorter program length, don’t lose sight of what you truly want to do with your life.

The gap year is something a lot of people regretfully decide to do, but in the long run, gap years can make a graduate candidate academically refreshed and more matured. If you follow some of this advice, you might be able to apply and graduate from your PA or graduate program earlier than you thought!

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2 thoughts on “The Dos and Don’ts of the Gap Year for Physician Assistants”

  1. I have yet to meet anyone who regretted taking a gap year …. or more. It’s a big world out there and once you start in this profession it can be very confining. More life experience equals better provider.
    So have some faith that the world will take care of you, close your eyes and jump.

  2. Why put off a rewarding career and that first paycheck? The massive school loans we all accrue enter repayment in about 6 months after graduation. I guess if you are a trust fund baby this might be an option or if you were uber successful in your previous life. If you are truly driven to be a PA like most of us are, you wouldn’t consider a “gap year.” After all, no one likes “gaps” in anything, i.e. your teeth, a fence, school or employment history. Think about it from an employers view, do they want to hire someone not driven and hard working. Will they care you backpacked across Europe or camped out for a year and ate Spam?

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