Monica Boggs, current MD/MPP candidate in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, knows the benefits of taking a break between undergrad and medical school all too well. But when she walked across the stage to accept her diploma, medicine was not on her mind — teaching was. With a political science and economics degree from UC Berkeley and her sights set on a master's in education, she joined Teach for America, a two-year program that recruits recent graduates to become educators in low-income communities.
Teaching would take Boggs to South Central, Los Angeles, where she would experience firsthand how her students were affected by the medical issues she'd later study. "It was eye-opening," she remembers. "Many of my students didn't have access to medical care, and it was affecting their ability to succeed in the classroom."
Boggs wanted to have a greater impact on her students' lives, so she began volunteering at a clinic for homeless and low-income families. "That was when I realized I wanted to go to medical school." Now, between her third and fourth year of her concurrent degree program, she reflects back and shares four good reasons for taking a break between undergrad and medical school.
Gain life experience
"In my third year, a lot of the attending physicians commented on my maturity — the way I dealt with patients and the connections I made with families," she says. Students are naturally the lowest on the totem pole, but because of her age and unique experience Boggs
felt like an equal right away.
"I also didn't internalize things the way we often do when we are new to the working world," she adds. "My experience gave me the gift of letting little things go."
Know how to balance life and school
Students who begin medical school can both over- and underestimate the shape and size of their schedules, and it can be draining on their ability to adjust.
"Not many people will believe me, but I still feel like teaching is a lot harder than medical school," Boggs admits. "Teaching prepared me for the emotional stress. If I had gone straight from undergrad, I doubt I would be quite as composed as I am. I still work hard, but I know how to balance life and school, which can often be really challenging."
Reconnect with family
Family shouldn't diminish in its importance to a medical student, and taking a break prior to starting can be the perfect reminder.
"When I was at Berkeley," Boggs explains, "I didn't see them often because they live in northern Orange County. I cherish the years I had between graduation and medical school, to reconnect with family and spend more time with them. They are my emotional support. It has been so great to have them close by during my time in medical school."
Figure out what makes you happy
"My experiences before medical school informed my future in a unique way," she believes. "It made me so passionate about underserved populations, those who don't have access to healthcare and can't even get to their medical appointments. I chose a medical school that values and fosters leadership, and I have participated in a lot of extracurricular activities that relate to my experiences."
For those considering some time off between undergrad and medical school, take a lesson from this MD candidate: "Do something you enjoy. Choose something mentally engaging that will inform your future. I am so grateful for my experience before medical school. I truly believe it not only made me a better applicant but a better doctor."
By Emily Williams