Not sure if you’re ready for college? Are you unclear about what kind of nursing field will be best for you? Do you just need some breathing room?

Have you ever thought of taking a gap year?

A gap year is a year off between graduations and degrees. The year gives you time to recharge, reassess, explore, and gain real-world experience. But a gap year isn’t a time to just hang out with friends and get a job around the corner.

A productive gap year should be rich with experiences – both personal and professional, but it takes some planning to make the most of your time. You won’t be committed to classes, clinicals, homework, and labs, but you should have a similarly full schedule.

Assess Your Plans

Why do you want to take a gap year? What do you hope to get out of this time? Don’t make the mistake of just going into a gap year without plans, goals, or aspirations. Think about how you can make the year work for you and seek out available opportunities. Talk with others who have had successful gap years and learn how their plans helped them in their current field. Investigate opportunities for internships, paid work, volunteer work, shadowing, and possibly even traveling and working abroad. The more active you are in your gap year, the more you’ll get out of it.

Defer Your Nursing School Acceptance

Don’t take a gap year without having something lined up when it ends. If you are about to enter nursing school or planning to go on to get an advanced degree, you should still go through the process of applying to school. Once you are accepted, you can decide to defer your entrance which secures a spot. By going through the acceptance process before your gap year, you are also freeing yourself from worrying about details and deadlines during your gap year. If you plan on being abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is making sure you have everything you need from half a world away.

See also
Study Tips for the Student Nurse

Take Advantage of Medical Opportunities

Nursing students and even pre-nursing students might find a gap year helps clarify their areas of interest if they can work and/or volunteer with a medical organization. You can do work close to home or far away. Even if you are taking the year off to make some money to pay for college and you don’t have a job in a medical field, use any spare time you do have to get involved in your field.

Get Out There and Network

Use your year to network and make connections wherever you go. Just because you are taking a year off doesn’t mean you have to be out of the loop. You may not be connecting with professors and other faculty, but you can be active in a local professional organization. Volunteer for leadership roles, connect with other members, and act on any suggestions they have for achieving your goals for the year.

Expect to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

A gap year should be filled with unfamiliar activities and self-created opportunities. If you feel comfortable in your plans for your gap year, you might not be giving it your best shot. This is the time for you to get out and extend yourself. Meet new people, find out about different nursing careers by shadowing professional nurses or asking for informational interviews. Give lectures on healthy habits at your library, school, or senior center. Start a new meeting group for nurses, nursing students, or other gap year comrades.

Be Honest About Your Attitude

See also
How to Land a New Grad Position in a Tough Market

Here the big question – are you self-motivated enough to do what a gap year requires? If you like the structure of class schedules and the ease of finding good opportunities at the career center, then you might not be the best candidate for a gap year. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll have more success knowing what works for you and sticking with it. Some aspects of an unstructured gap year bring about unexpected and wonderful opportunities, but if all that uncertainty makes you uncomfortable, a gap year might be a tough adjustment.

Seriously assess your gap year motivations and your determination to make this opportunity a very specific step toward a goal. Are you ready?

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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