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  • Charith Ratnayake

Choose Your Own Adventure: Gap Year Jobs

Updated: Apr 21, 2019


The gap year: a mysterious twelve months (or more) before medical school, where students are temporarily thrust into the “real world” away from the safe embrace of academia.


As someone who actually took one of these gap years, I had to personally weigh the pros and cons of different options. The issue is that each job is vastly different from one another, so if you don’t know what you're walking into, you may have a less than fulfilling gap year. I personally chose to be both an ER Technician and EMT for a medical transport company, so I could tell you a lot about those jobs. However, I wouldn’t be able to give much advice about being a scribe or research coordinator.


Thankfully, many students in our MedPrep network have participated in diverse gap year experiences, so I have combined all of our valuable insights into this guide to help you choose what you want to do during your mysterious twelve months (or more).


Disclaimer: These experiences are subjective, but we have told our contributors to be as impartial as possible. Therefore, there should b a lot of valuable insights to each gap year experience.


1) EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT SCRIBE


(written by Ji Whae Choi)


For the past year, I worked as a scribe in the emergency department at a community hospital. There were three major requirements that I had to meet prior to my start date: a completion of at least one year at a regionally accredited university or college, commitment of 12-months to the program, and willingness to work rotating shifts such as days, evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. My typical week varied a lot in terms of hours. For example, I could work 24 hours one week and then 36 hours another week. I was paid $14 per hour and offered benefits. However, these specific requirements, work schedule, and compensation are different from program to program, so I would carefully research into as many programs as possible before choosing.


My primary responsibility was to electronically document a patient’s visit at the hospital in order for physicians to focus on providing a high-quality patient care. Every shift, I was assigned to a physician whom I followed around and communicated with throughout the day. I organized the chart by summarizing patient’s symptoms and history, noting exam findings and consults, and submitting discharge or admission orders.


The positive aspect about my job is that I worked in the closest proximity to a doctor, allowing me to view patient care from a physician’s perspective. During each shift with a doctor, I witnessed patients’ arrival, examination, medical decision making, treatment, and discharge/admission. By the end of my first month as a scribe, I began making differential diagnoses by myself and considering the necessary lab work and/or imaging on each patient. I also enjoyed working with different members in the ED team, such as nurses, technicians, and unit secretary. While the physician was temporarily occupied for a procedure, reevaluation, or other task, I had the opportunity to receive and relay critical information and facilitate teamwork. This experience helped me to better understand the role of each member in the medical team.


One negative aspect about my job is that I did not have much direct patient interactions or clinical duties. My patient interactions consisted of asking the patients if they need blankets or water and bringing them. Since our major goal is charting, scribes are not allowed to do anything clinical such as CPR.


In conclusion, I absolutely loved my time as a scribe and would recommend it to a person who is searching for a job that allows you to interact with a physician as frequently as possible.



2) OUTPATIENT SCRIBE


(Written by Surya Gourneni)

Since August, I have worked for an orthopedic clinic and began at a heme/onc clinic in January. I applied for a scribe position with ScribeAmerica (SA), who hired and trained me in July of last year. Training includes an online portion and on-site training. There were a few requirements to apply with SA: high school diploma, decent typing skills, and a commitment of 12 months (more on this later). I work with doctors and their assistants. My hours vary significantly based on the schedules of my doctors. Since my orthopedic clinic is privately owned, my schedule revolves around a regular work week with a couple days off because the surgeon is in surgery with his assistant. I usually log around 25 hours over two and a half days of work, unless the surgeon and his PA are out of town. The heme/onc clinic is located in a hospital and I work regular hours there. On my off days from the orthopedic clinic, I work a normal 8-5 at the heme/onc clinic. The pay is from ScribeAmerica is usually minimum wage depending on where you work (i.e. $13.25 in DC, $7.25 in VA, etc). Occasionally, it will be a little bit higher based on your merit/length of work. You get paid for training as well. In general, your hours are regular but may change based on your doctor’s schedule. It always best to be proactive and ask your physician or the clinic coordinator about the schedule. There is not a lot of inherent flexibility, but you can always request time off with ScribeAmerica and they will attempt to find you a replacement.


Since I have taken a proactive approach to learning from the physicians and helping with the overall clinic workflow, I believe the work is incredible. It took some time to get used to each clinic’s EMR but after crossing that hurdle, the work was pretty smooth. My ortho clinic gets busy, so there is never a dull moment. However, my heme/onc clinic has some down time, so I can read a book or work on some projects in my off time. I listen to the physician while in the patient room, obtain the patient’s HPI, and work with the medical assistant if they need help. I found that the added responsibility helps keep the job fresh.


There are a few pros to being an outpatient scribe. You have more patient interaction, learn about your field in depth, and form closer friendships with your colleagues and bosses.


The cons are a bit varied. Sometimes, work can be boring if you see multiple similar cases (i.e. knee osteoarthritis 6 times in a row) and occasional high stress when you see a complicated patient or the clinic is falling behind schedule. Other cons are more logistical, as some weeks you don’t have a lot of work because your physician may be out of the clinic. You might be required to stay after clinic to finish and fix notes.


Being an outpatient scribe has taught me a lot about the fields I work in. Every day, I see at least one new case that offers me a different perspective on the patient experience. I learned how a clinic functions and ways to improve the workflow. The connections I’ve formed over my time at the clinics are invaluable.



3) MEDICAL ASSISTANT


(Written by Alexa Noronha)

I began working in a cardiology outpatient office as a medical assistant in January after my fall graduation date. My training for this job was on-site, and lasted about 3 weeks in total in order to be able to handle most responsibilities on my own. Overall, I ended up working around 50 hours every week Monday-Friday, with my pay starting at $15/hour. There were not that many people working in the office, so time off required a few weeks notice to coordinate with other medical assistants in the office.


As a medical assistant, I was responsible for a lot. Patient intake, phone calls, vitals, and blood draws were among my main duties. I also had to do some billing and get in touch with insurance companies about various patient issues.


One great part about this position was my ability to build a relationship with patients who came to the office and learn about what it takes to run an outpatient clinic. There are many key people to the process of having an office run smoothly.


One aspect of this job that I would change is that sometimes the expectations were that I could do it all, from blood draws to billing and squeeze that into a 10 hour day. It could get exhausting at times.


In conclusion, working as a medical assistant can be very rewarding, but make sure the office you work for has clear expectations of you from the start.



4) HOSPITAL (FLOOR) TECHNICIAN


(Written by Skanda Setty)

During my gap year, I spent a few months working as a Floor Technician in the Progressive Care Unit of a local hospital. Although I worked part-time (two 12-hr shifts per week), the training and on-boarding process was full-time for 3-5 weeks. Besides the training that the hospital provided, the only requirement to start working in the hospital was CPR Certification, but a CPR class was offered free of charge if you were not already certified. I was paid approximately $14/hour and the shifts were from 7AM – 7PM (day shift) or 7PM – 7AM (night shift). The shifts were self-scheduled and, if necessary, I could switch shifts with the other technicians.


As a floor technician, I was assigned 8-10 patients per shift and I worked with charge nurses and the registered nurse to provide direct patient care. This included checking and reporting vital signs and blood sugar levels, as well as inserting urinary catheters, placing IV catheters, and performing EKG’s. Depending on the needs of the patient, I also had other tasks such as assisting them to the restroom, cleaning them, feeding them, or fetching them food, water, and other necessities.


The best part of working as a technician was the opportunity to interact heavily with patients. Given that many volunteer opportunities in hospitals do not allow any physical contact with patients, this opportunity was unique because I had the opportunity to directly provide care to the patients I was assigned to. Working in a hospital also exposed me to relevant information that healthcare providers are familiar with, and taught me more about the healthcare system that I was planning to be a part of. I also learned and became proficient in certain unique skills, such as placing IV catheters. In my unit, it was often said that the technicians (most of whom had never been to medical school or nursing school) were better at placing IV catheters than the nurses were.


There were drawbacks to the work, though. The 12-hr shifts were long, and I was constantly busy since there were different tasks that had to be done for different patients at different times. Some of these tasks also had strict time frames for which they had to be completed. In the meantime, patients or nurses were asking for help as issues came up. Although I appreciated being kept busy and not feeling like I was wasting my time, it was draining. Daily tasks such as assisting patients to the restroom, cleaning patients, and inserting catheters also requires being comfortable with getting your hands dirty. In hindsight, the biggest drawback was that I worked primarily with nurses, and I rarely had the chance to interact with physicians.


All in all, I considered this experience very beneficial for anyone who wants/needs a lot of clinical experience and direct patient contact.



5) EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT TECHNICIAN


(Written by Charith Ratnayake)

I spent about eight months as an ER Technician in a community hospital. In order to be hired, I needed to have my EMT certification and (presumably) an undergraduate degree. My typical work week was about 36-48 hours per week and I had to work five weekends every two months. I was paid about 14$/hour with a little bit more money on weekends and night shifts. The job was also generally pretty flexible because you could schedule your own shifts, switch shifts with other technicians, and accrue a lot of paid time off (PTO). Therefore, if you need to go to interviews or vacations you can take time off easily.


As an ER technician, I acted as a phlebotomist and probably started about 5,000 IVs. I basically completed all the orders with the nurses (other than giving medicine). This includes splinting, insertion of foley's, CPR, taking vital signs, EKGs, and even assisting intubations or central line insertions. The main difference between an ER technician and a hospital (floor) technician is that the former does less daily care activities, such as bathing, cleaning, and feeding. I also personally liked being an ER technician more because of the sense of urgency and excitement of emergency medicine, which you don't really get on the floors.


Obviously, the coolest part of my job is the patient interaction, especially as someone who never really put my hands on a patient before. I also really loved being in a hospital environment because you passively (or actively) absorb a lot of healthcare information, such as which medications doctors give for different conditions or what symptoms warrant a chest tube. Finally, the skills I learned on the job (like IVs and splitting) are going to be taught in medical school, so it is nice to be good at them already.


However, there are also a few negative aspects about being a technician. Primarily, you don’t get much interaction with the physicians because you only really work with the nurses. It is also a job that requires a lot of physical energy. As a technician, you are constantly running around the department, doing CPR, and even extricating patients out of vehicles. It can also be pretty tense a times if you are dealing with aggressive patients, difficult IV sticks, or nurses who are not having a good day.


Overall, my experience was very positive and I would recommend it to anyone interested in good clinical experience.



6) MEDICAL TRANSPORT EMT


(Written by Charith Ratnayake)


I worked as a BLS technician in a medical transport company for about 6 months. For this company, you need to have both your EMT certification and a EVOC certification. However, the company does provide EVOC training if you do not have a certification at hiring. My typical work week was a 36 hour week with no mandatory weekend shifts. The typical shift is a 12 hour period either during the day or night. The pay was pretty meager at 13/hr, but they bumped the pay to 19/hr for every hour past 36 hours in a week. These medical transport companies have dedicated scheduling managers that determine your shifts for you. If your manager is flexible, you should have no trouble changing or calling out for shifts. However, my manager was not, which was the reason I had to leave the position.


As a BLS technician, my main responsibility was to transport patients between hospitals or to residences. I drove the ambulance and wrote patient reports in the back of the ambulance. I gave report to nurses when we dropped patients off at different hospitals. I also took patient vital signs in the back of the ambulance while we drove.


The main positive aspect about the job was that I was able to find a paid position to use my EMT certification. Another benefit of the job was that I had a lot of verbal patient interaction. I also worked with very fun and interesting partners. I made friends on that job that I still keep in touch with today.


The worst aspect of being an EMT for a medical transport company is that you don’t get to do much. Ultimately, I just felt like Uber Health, moving patients back and forth without doing much. BLS technicians are only allowed to move patients who are not very acute, think minor falls and dementia. The company reserves the really sick patients for the paramedic level. Therefore, other than take vital signs, I did not do much with the patients. There would also be situations where the company did not give us enough resources to take care of the patients we did transport, like pulse oximeters for patients with respiratory distress. Working on the back of the ambulance can be very stressful if you have an aggressive patient or family member riding with you. Finally, the company does look down upon you if you call in to say you are not comfortable transporting a patient, which can be very dangerous.


Honestly, I did not enjoy my experience here very much, and there were many times that I would have quit if I didn’t need the money. I think it would be a better option to just volunteer as an EMT and find paid part time work.



7) RESEARCH (WET LAB)


(Written by Sindhura Kolachana)


During my gap year, I worked in a wet lab at the NIH through the postbaccalaureate intramural research fellowship. The NIH IRTA program is popular among students applying to professional and graduate schools. Along with the lab experience, the program provides students with a medical school application office where they can meet with advisors for mock interviews and essay review.


I specifically worked in a primate lab in the National Institute of Mental Health where I worked to optimize a procedure to produce a transgenic marmoset monkey so that further models of psychiatric illnesses could be produced in the future. The job was mostly benchwork and molecular biology techniques such as gel electrophoresis, PCR, microbiology and ELISA. The other large component of my lab experience was animal care and procedures such as surgeries, behavioral training, and gamete collection. Since this is an animal lab and our lab relies heavily on the veterinary staff, the hours were not extremely flexible. I would generally work from 8 am to 4 pm and would have weekends off. The stipend for the program is generally fixed and can be found on the NIH website based on one’s number of degrees and the number of years they have been engaged in NIH research.


I enjoyed working in the lab and through this program for many reasons. I had never been able to work with advanced animal models such as monkeys before and becoming skilled in handling this kind of work has set me up well for almost any wet lab experience in medical school now. Furthermore, the postbac program hosts a number of students each year and I enjoyed meeting all the other students at the NIH.